"Capitalism was a way of holding the masses in bondage to exploit them. Those who believed in Socialism could never subscribe to any form of communalism. On the whole, they disapproved of the exploiting class" – Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, The Unfinished Memoirs.
During the making of the original Constitution in 1972, the biggest criticism it had to undergo was not being socialist enough. But having a socialist state in a strict sense with the backing of revolution and deprivation of democracy was never the goal of our constitution-makers. Thus Bangladesh adopted socialism in its constitution as a fundamental principle. The 3rd paragraph of our preamble suggests that the aim was to create a synthesis between democracy and socialism, a conjugation where people can have parliamentary democracy along with a socialist economy.
"Further pledging that it shall be a fundamental aim of the State to realise through the democratic process a socialist society, free from exploitation—a society in which the rule of law, fundamental human rights and freedom, equality and justice, political, economic and social, will be secured for all citizens" – the preamble of the Constitution.
While a capitalist economy takes advantage of the working-class not giving them their fair share of profit under the pretext of property rights and making such exploitations lawful, a socialist economy promises the elimination of social and economic inequality by ensuring equity in income, status, the standard of life and social security from birth till death. Those constitutional commitments are inscribed but stand in contradiction to our present social and economical position.
Inequality in the distribution of income has significantly increased since the 1980s. The Household Income and Expenditure Survey (HIES) released by Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics (BBS) in 2016 showed that the income share of the poorest 10 percent of the household population received 1.01 percent of the total national income in 2016 which was 2 percent in 2010. In comparison, the richest 10 percent of the population held 38.16 percent of the national income in 2016 which was 35.84 percent in 2010. Bangladesh's Gini coefficient (Gini Index), which measures economic inequality, was 25.88 in 1984 and later went up to 33.46 in 1996 according to the World Bank. As per the latest survey, it rose to 32.40 in 2016 from 32.10 in 2010.
The 5th Amendment made by military rulers paved the way for this deterioration. Under martial law, Article 10 of the original Constitution declaring the establishment of a socialist economy was substituted. Socialism in the preamble was amended to mean 'economic and social justice' which confined the meaning of socialism to an extent. Article 42(2) was amended stating the acquisition of private property could only be made with compensation. On the basis of these amendments, most of the nationalised industries were privatised with the majority of the economy comprising financial institutions coming under private ownership. It gave birth to a new capitalist class and their uninterrupted legacy.
Later the Supreme Court in Khandaker Delwar Hossain v. Bangladesh Italian Marble Works LTD, commonly known as the 5th Amendment Case, condemned and invalidated the military rule and declared the 5th Amendment of the military regime unlawful. The 15th Amendment did the rest of the damage control on paper by reviving socialism back to its original form in the preamble, bringing back article 10 and aligning it to the original Constitution of 1972. However, much was not reflected in the policies of the government nor its executive work. Socialism merely stands as an idealistic vision, working as the backdrop of our nation while simultaneously strengthening and facilitating capitalism.
Article 14 of our Constitution declares the emancipation of toiling masses, the peasants, workers and backward section of the people from all forms of exploitation as a fundamental responsibility of the state. Article 15, 17, 19, 20 subsequently acknowledges the basic necessities of life, free and compulsory education, equality of opportunity and work as a right and duty. Unfortunately, these provisions are in Fundamental Principles of State Policy which deems it judicially unenforceable by Article 8(2) of our Constitution. No constitutional guarantee of these socio-economic rights works as a hindrance in the way of attaining the goal of a socialist society. The incapability of the state to take the burden of such socio-economic rights reduced it to mere non-justiciable principles. In this case, a rights-based approach could have been the solution.
However, giving these principles the status of justiciable rights renders it unconstitutional in itself. Article 7B harbouring Doctrine of Basic Structure, protects basic provisions of the Constitution including Part II (FPSP), making it unamendable. Nonetheless, other indirect methods such as interpretation and resorting to fundamental rights in Part III are utilized by the judiciary to ensure justiciability of those non-justiciable rights. Nowadays the right to life guaranteed in Article 32, is a widely used measure which shelters the fundamental principles and ensures its enforceability. Regardless of such measures, the question of effectiveness and adequateness in the long run still remains.
Despite high economic growth, Bangladesh remains a country with a significant level of poverty and rising inequality. One of the main arguments put forward in defence of our incapability is the lack of resources. But the systematic violation of non-justiciable rights is more likely to be the result of improper governance than the scarcity of resources. Corruption and the improper utilisation of resources are not letting the needy people access their socio-economic rights. In the fiscal year of 2018-2019, the ministries were able to spend 94.32 percent of their development budget. They managed to implement only 89.34 percent of their development budget in the 2016-2017 fiscal year, the lowest in eight years.
Democratic socialism in Bangladesh since her birth has been constrained by amendments and the weight of our limitations making the road to its success a bumpy one. Consequently, its implementation now is a cry of our utmost necessity. The resolution of our emancipation lies in our Constitution in the form of democratic socialism. It's high time that we rethink and bring out the principles from the Constitution into our day to day life.
The author is an LLB student at the Department of Law in University of Chittagong.
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the opinions and views of The Business Standard.