The great achievement of the Liberation War of Bangladesh was the independence of our country and implementing constitutional law in the independent nation. The constitution was drafted within 11 months of the liberation of Bangladesh and its implementation was a huge achievement of the Bangabandhu government.
The two countries that were born before the birth of Bangladesh in 1971 in this subcontinent were Pakistan and India. India implemented its constitution on January 26, 1950, and Pakistan in March 1956. However, it took a long time for the both countries to draft their constitutions.
In our case, too, the duration was much longer. Bangabandhu had a plan to draft a constitution since the pre-1970 elections, because there was no constitution in Pakistan at the time and that election was a responsibility for Pakistan to draft a new constitution. Even before the 1970 elections, Bangabandhu and his party, the Awami League, drafted a constitution with Pakistan in mind, as recorded in the CIA documents. That draft constitution of 1970 was written before the 1970 elections, with a strange country called Pakistan in mind.
Pakistan comprised two lands 1,100 miles apart and religion was the only means of connection. There was no language or cultural connection. That is why soon after its birth, Muhammad Ali Jinnah, known as the father of Pakistan, started conspiring to change the language of the people of this land. As a result, soon after the birth of Pakistan, there was a division between the people of these two territories. The consequence was the movement for autonomy which led to the Liberation War of Bangladesh.
The key spirit of the War of Liberation was a non-communal and egalitarian state and social system. That is what Bangabandhu wanted while directing the drafting of the constitution of 1972, which resulted in the adoption of the four main principles as the principles of the adopted constitution – democracy, nationalism, secularism, and socialism. How familiar the people of this land were with these four principles still remains to be a subject of discussion.
Compassion for the people and the experience of the tragic consequences of communal riots at different points in time and the extreme poverty of the people of this land inspired Bangabandhu to adopt secularism and socialism as the basic principles even though it can be said that the people of this land had no familiarity with these two words.
When the Awami League was born in 1949, it was Awami Muslim League. The word 'Muslim' had to be included in the name of the party, which was dropped in 1955. Since then until the elections in 1970, the people of this land never heard the word secularism directly. Even in the 1954 United Front elections, Muslims were given prominence, stating that laws contrary to the Quran and Sunnah could not be enacted.
In general, in all communal riots that took place at the time, the main opposition party, the Awami League, stood by the minorities and opposed the riots. But even then, it cannot be said that the people of this land could understand the lexical explanation of secularism.
The Western propagations at the time interpreted secularism and socialism as synonymous and gave their new explanations. By promoting secularism and socialism as symbols of irreligion, a frightening state of mind was created among the people of this land. The main political parties in this campaign were Jamaat-e-Islami and the Muslim League. They tried to use this campaign against the Awami League as a tool in the 1970 elections but failed.
We saw the manifestation of bigotry during our Liberation War. Fanatic groups, including the Jamaat-e-Islami and the Muslim League, took an anti-Bengali stance in favour of the so-called Islamic Republic of Pakistan and killed many Bengalis. In other words, they killed intellectuals who believed in secularism.
After independence, the fanatics who were defeated in the War of Liberation took refuge in the country and abroad. The Bangabandhu government thought that this defeated group would no longer be allowed to rise in this land. That is why secularism was considered a key principle of the basic principles of the constitution, even though Bangabandhu had been talking about a non-communal society since the birth of Pakistan.
Evidence of thoughts of equality is also found in the constitution. Article 20(1) of the constitution says, "from everyone according to their merits and deeds", which is adopted from the Marxist doctrine.
Secularism and non-communalism are two different words, and their meanings are also different. Bangabandhu understood the different meaning of the word secularism created by the Western media. Religious fundamentalists were interpreting secularism as irreligion. Since Bangabandhu realised this as well, he would often say, "I am a Muslim but not a communist." However, the Western societies defined secularism in their societies at the time of the Renaissance, which meant that religion had nothing to do with the state. The first amendment to the US Constitution was that the Senate could not legislate on religion. Then again, almost all European countries, including the United States, declare their Christian identity by swearing "In the name of God." Representatives of the churches of these countries administer this oath.
In this case, Bangabandhu used the constitution of the country to take oath. He did not keep any religious representative. Despite the fact that the constitution of the country contains the word 'Bismillah' or mentions Islam as the state religion, the custom to take oath in the style set by Bangabandhu still prevails. Secular India follows the custom to swear on religious texts in court since birth. The term secularism was not used in the Indian constitution when it was drafted.
At the time, it would be propagated that the communists had no religious belief. Jamaat-e-Islami leader Ghulam Azam returned from the United States after 1971 and stayed in Saudi Arabia, a country that did not recognise Bangladesh until Bangabandhu's death. As far as I remember, Saudi Arabia recognised the Mostaq government.
These two basic principles of the constitution adopted by the Bangabandhu government probably became the main subject of conspiracy. That is why Farooq, involved in the August 15 killing of Bangabandhu, proudly wanted to build an Islamic republic like today's socially devastated Pakistan. This followed Ziaur Rahman's move to include 'Bismillahir Rahmanir Rahim' in the constitution. After that, Hussain Muhammad Ershad added Islam as the state religion, which is still in force today.
That theological conspiracy has deepened. It was under the leadership of the Jamaat-e-Islami, which was defeated in 1971, that the Shapla Chattar incident or the terrorist acts for several months involving arson in the name of blockading highways and railways took place.
All religious fundamentalism is the same. They showed their strength across the country in the wake of the recent incident in France. What power does their leaders have to take to the streets, instruct the government on what to do, and set a deadline for that? For many years, the activities of the branches of this group have reached deep inside the country, and free thinkers are always facing attacks.
The constitution of 1972 written under the leadership of Bangabandhu is not a part of our educational curriculum even today. It is taught only in the Bachelor of Law programme. In addition, it is taught in the political science programme at the undergraduate level. The constitution of Bangladesh should be included in the curriculum of all levels, including secondary and higher secondary education.
The Awami League, which led the country's struggle for independence, has to think about how Bangabandhu's lifelong struggle for the ideal of secularism will be realised. This is the big question today during the birth centenary of Bangabandhu.