Ris­ing to the Chal­lenge

Southasia - - CONTENTS - The writer is a poet and au­thor. He is cur­rently pur­su­ing a de­gree in Law at the SOAS.

Ka­mal Hos­sain’s Bangladesh: Quest for Free­dom and Jus­tice has been billed as a shrewd com­men­tary on state for­ma­tion in Bangladesh af­ter its in­de­pen­dence from Pak­istan. The book, how­ever, goes be­yond its remit and pre­sents an in-depth as­sess­ment of Pak­istan’s po­lit­i­cal land­scape in the two decades af­ter it gained in­de­pen­dence from In­dia in 1947.

It is easy to con­demn his­tory text­books for fab­ri­cat­ing de­tails and over­stat­ing the im­pact of key po­lit­i­cal events. Hos­sain’s his­tor­i­cal anal­y­sis of the people of Bangladesh’s strug­gle for jus­tice and po­lit­i­cal recog­ni­tion is dif­fer­ent from the glut of bi­ased text­books. It chron­i­cles the ef­fects of key po­lit­i­cal de­vel­op­ments through the lens of the au­thor’s per­sonal strug­gle with the po­lit­i­cal sys­tem.

Ka­mal Hos­sain is a se­nior ad­vo­cate in the Supreme Court of Bangladesh and has been ac­tively in­volved in var­i­ous phases of the coun­try’s strug­gle for democ­racy and jus­tice. When Ayub Khan im­posed mar­tial law, he vo­cif­er­ously de­fended the free­dom of the press and acted as one of the coun­sels for the vic­tims of the Agar­tala Con­spir­acy case. Hos­sain’s in­volve­ment with the Awami League's team at the Round Ta­ble Con­fer­ence and his as­so­ci­a­tion with Gen­eral Yahya Khan in 1971 pro­vided him with a holis­tic view of the 1971 War. Fol­low­ing the in­de­pen­dence of Bangladesh, Ka­mal Hos­sain served as min­is­ter of law, chair­man of the Con­sti­tu­tion Draft­ing Com­mit­tee and min­is­ter of for­eign af­fairs.

Ow­ing to his con­certed ef­forts to sta­bi­lize Bangladesh’s democ­racy through ef­fi­cient state-build­ing, Hos­sain has de­vel­oped a fairly com­pre­hen­sive opin­ion of the coun­try’s quest for jus­tice and sta­bil­ity. This book serves both as both an eye­wit­ness ac­count and an ob­jec­tive de­pic­tion of the ma­jor his­tor­i­cal in­ci­dents.

The ini­tial chap­ters of the book high­light the con­tri­bu­tion of the ‘people of Bangladesh’ to the in­de­pen­dence move­ment and, con­se­quently, the cre­ation of a new state. In­ter­est­ingly, these sec­tions por­tray the key mile­stones in Pak­istan’s his­tory from the per­spec­tive of the Ben­galis. As a re­sult, the read­ers may find that the book chal­lenges the ma­jori­tar­ian view and draws at­ten­tion to the predica­ment faced by the Ben­galis in Pak­istan. Hos­sain’s ac­count pro­vides a heart-wrench­ing re­minder of a con­flict that tore the na­tion apart in 1971 and ex­plains its causes and ef­fects. His­tor­i­cal facts pre­sented in this book are not ex­posés that will sur­prise the reader. They seem to have found a niche in main­stream fic­tion such as Kamila Sham­sie’s Kar­tog­ra­phy and have be­come a firmly en­trenched – if not an al­to­gether em­bar­rass­ing – fea­ture of Pak­istan’s his­tory. With­out pro­vid­ing this his­tor­i­cal back­ground, the au­thor would have failed to ob­serve the crux of the prob­lem: the ruth­less strug­gle for iden­tity in a demo­cratic so­ci­ety.

Fol­low­ing the 1971 war, Pak­istan’s east wing was now Bangladesh, a coun­try in its own right. There were nu­mer­ous chal­lenges that had to be reck­oned with. Bangladesh re­quired ef­fi­cient state ap­pa­ra­tuses, a con­sti­tu­tion, a vi­able for­eign pol­icy and wide­spread in­ter­na­tional recog­ni­tion. Hos­sain has skill­fully ad­dressed these chal­lenges by ex­plor­ing the se­quence of events in­volved in the early na­tion­build­ing process.

State ap­pa­ra­tuses avail­able to Bangladesh dur­ing the time of its cre­ation were in­ad­e­quate to help the fledg­ling coun­try de­velop a po­lit­i­cal iden­tity. The re­sources and ex­per­tise in­her­ited from Pak­istan merely rep­re­sented the in­fra­struc­ture of what was once a “weak provin­cial govern­ment”. As a re­sult, a se­ries of al­ter­na­tive strate­gies for suc­cess had to be de­vel­oped.

Ka­mal Hos­sain’s ac­count eval­u­ates the con­tri­bu­tion of the govern­ment in mit­i­gat­ing the pres­sures of man­ag­ing a new state. The book adopts a fairly neu­tral and bal­anced ap­proach to its sub­ject mat­ter. It does not seek to sug­ar­coat Bangladesh’s achieve­ments in the ini­tial phase. To the con­trary, it serves to high­light the strengths and weak­nesses of the govern­ment’s ap­proach to ad­dress­ing Bangladesh’s prob­lems. For in­stance, the au­thor cat­e­gor­i­cally states that even though pos­i­tive steps were taken to mit­i­gate the risks to Bangladesh’s frag­ile econ­omy, the govern­ment did not have con­trol over eco­log­i­cal fac­tors such as floods and drought. This led to a re­duc­tion in crop cul­ti­va­tion and pro­duced a mas­sive eco­nomic

cri­sis which un­der­mined the goal of democ­racy and jus­tice. De­spite these set­backs, pub­lic ad­min­is­tra­tors ex­pressed the de­sire to rise to the chal­lenge and move the coun­try in the right di­rec­tion.

The au­thor has aptly de­scribed a con­sti­tu­tion as the ‘au­to­bi­og­ra­phy of a na­tion’. Through a se­ries of facts and per­sonal anec­dotes, Hos­sain con­sid­ers how the over­all struc­tural frame­work of the con­sti­tu­tion was es­tab­lished. More­over, a care­ful ex­am­i­na­tion of mech­a­nisms pro­posed to give the con­sti­tu­tion a demo­cratic char­ac­ter has also been in­cluded. This of­fers an in­ter­est­ing his­tor­i­cal over­view of the gen­e­sis of Bangladesh’s le­gal his­tory.

While Bangladesh’s strug­gle to main­tain an in­ter­nal com­mit­ment to demo­cratic val­ues posed a huge chal­lenge, is­sues such as for­eign pol­icy and the new coun­try’s rep­re­sen­ta­tion in the United Na­tion formed the crux of its in­ter­na­tional recog­ni­tion. In the last five chap­ters, Hos­sain high­lights the ma­jor pit­falls in­volved in Bangladesh’s ini­tial ef­forts to build good re­la­tions with its neigh­bors – es­pe­cially In­dia and Pak­istan. Writ­ten in an ob­jec­tive

Hos­sain’s ac­count pro­vides a heartwrench­ing re­minder of a con­flict that tore the Bangladeshi na­tion apart in 1971 and ex­plains its causes and ef­fects. His­tor­i­cal facts pre­sented in the book are not ex­posés that will sur­prise the reader.

and in­trigu­ing man­ner, the chap­ters of­fer a clear tes­ta­ment to the fact that a coun­try’s abil­ity to de­velop sound for­eign re­la­tions strongly in­flu­ences its sta­bil­ity and ex­ec­u­tive com­pe­tence.

De­spite the ini­tial veto from China over Bangladesh’s en­try into the United Na­tion, Hos­sain has de­scribed Bangladesh’s in­tro­duc­tion to the world as­sem­bly as ‘be­fit­ting’. In­ter­est­ingly, this ob­ser­va­tion ap­pears to be care­fully in­ter­spersed with the over­all pur­pose of the book. By con­clud­ing this sec­tion on an op­ti­mistic note, the au­thor shows that in­de­pen­dence of­fers a means to re­al­ize the im­por­tance of democ­racy.

In or­der to de­velop a sys­tem in Bangladesh that fa­vors the in­ter­ests of the com­mu­nity and avoids the ruth­less strug­gle for po­lit­i­cal power, it is im­por­tant to as­cribe greater mean­ing to the fun­da­men­tal pur­poses of Bangladesh’s lib­er­a­tion move­ment. Only then can the quest for jus­tice and free­dom be re­al­ized.

Book Ti­tle: Bangladesh: Quest For Free­dom and Jus­tice Au­thor: Ka­mal Hos­sain Pub­lisher: Ox­ford Univer­sity Press Pages: 316, Hard­back Price: Rs.895 ISBN-13: 9780199068531

Re­viewed by Taha Kehar

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