The 15th Amendment - A Mockery of Secularism

Published on Friday, July 8, 2011

By dint of their brute majority in the Parliament, AL-led grand alliance has enacted the 15th amendment of the constitution unilaterally without much debate in the house. The scraping of Caretaker Government provision of the constitution following the verdict of the apex court on the 13th amendment partially (the verdict has made the Caretaker Government void but assessing the reality it has suggested to conduct two more general elections under this provision) may bring the pre 1/11 confrontational politics back and the country may fall in another volatile situation. Only time will say whether AL will be able to resolve this self-created, though foreseeable crisis in a peaceful manner or not. However, there are other aspects of this amendment, for instance secularism and nationality are also crucial to be scrutinised closely. Especially, the restoration of secularism retaining 'Bismillahir Rahmaner Rahim' and the provision of the state religion of this amendment is to be analysed critically as it will have a long term impact on the future course of the country,

One would not have to be a pundit in political science to apprise that the concept of state religion or incorporating a religious utterance in preamble of the constitution contradicts the very notion of the secularism. According to Wikipedia secularism asserts the right to be free from religious rule and teachings, and the right to freedom from governmental imposition of religion upon the people within a state that is neutral on matters of belief. In fact secularism discards any interference of religion in state affairs and considers religeon as a discourse of private sphere of human life. The concept has been translated first into reality in Europe and America in early 19th century when church and state were separated and the state has been freed from the grips of the church.

Establishing secularism was one of the spirits of our Liberation War and so after liberation, the 1972 constitution embodied this as one of the state principles. However, post-1975 politics changed the situation and instead of secularism we reverted to the realm of communalism as in dark era of Pakistan period. It may be recalled that millitary dictators Gen. Ziaur Rahman and General Ershad had purged the state of its secular nature by tramping the original constitution to appease Islamists to cling to power. Gen. Zia incorporated 'Bismillah' in its preamble and deleted secularism from the constitution and subsequently Gen. Ershad made Islam the state religion through the 5th and 8th amendments respectively.

On part of the dictators, in Muslim world manipulation of religious sentiment of the people with a view to securing cheap popularity is not quite uncommon as we see in Pakistan, Middle eastern countries or in elsewhere. Analysing political ideologies of both Gen Zia and Gen Ershad it can be inferred that they Islamized the constituition not out of inspiration for establishing Islam, rather they did these because they needed the endorsement of their illegal grabing of state power from any segment of the people and they preferred Islamic bigots who were alligned to Pakistani occupying forces during our liberation war to make a political axis.

However, one of the major factors behind the landslide victory of AL-led grand alliance was its commitment for complete restoration of 1972 constituition. Specifically, the electoral menifesto, the Vision 21 of AL has pledged to realise the much-talked-about digital Bangladesh along with the revival of the spirits of liberation against communal politics by restoring 1972 constitution. People of the country, especially the new generation voters who played a pivotal role in AL's massive victory were encouraged with this pledge as the most members of this generation oppose communal politics and intermingle of religion in politics. This generation want to see the real progress of the country as embodied in vision 21.

To shun nasty commual politics, no doubt, establishing secularism in true sense at the state level is a must. However, restoration of secularism as one of the state policies keeping Islam as the state religion in the constitution contradicts the very creed of secularism as stated above. Moreover, unlike 1972 constituition the new version of the constituition after this amendment has allowed religion based politics. These no doubt, have encouraged the religious bigots and commual politics.

An exploration of the passage of inclusion of the state religion through the 8th amendment in 1988 has revealed that at that time all the major parties AL, BNP and their alliance strongly protested this and termed this as a machiavelic tricks of the autocrat Gen Ershad. All these parties at that time observed hartal in protest of incorporating Islam as the state religion in the constitution. Even religion based party Jamat-i-Islami participated in protests and criticised Ershad for this misdeed. In this context, at that time, in one occasion, present Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina explicitly declared that whenever she would get opportunity she would scrap the state religion provision of the constitution.

People are not surprised at the changed stance of BNP-Jamat axis on the question of state religion as these are the parties who frequently manipulate religious sentiment of the common people to achieve their politcal gains. This assertion is justified by evaluating the tennure of BNP-Jamat led last political government when they nurtured and promoted the Islamic bigots endangering the nation as a whole. People at that time witnessed the rise of Islamic extremists like Bangla Bhai, Abdur Rahman Saekh with the patronisation of the government and killing of people in the name of Islam.

However, this time as people of the country have rendered that mandade, AL gets that opportunity to fix all distorted provisions those were embodied in the constituion by the reactionary forces Yet why a party like AL having secular image is deviating from the true essence of secularism is a mystry indeed. Perhaps, AL does not want BNP making this an issue and initiate a movement against the government joining with its political alliance from Islamic bigots. Even this is true, conscious citizens of the country cannot approve this notion of AL. The leaders of AL should be aware of the fact that AL is the party which fought against all odds of communal forces in Pakiatan era and eventually led the War of Liberation with a view to establishing secular, democratic and a just society in the country. In conclusion it may be stated that the people of the country have not expected such mockery of secularism at least from AL.

(Md. Anwarul Kabir is a university academic and a freelance writer. email:

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