DIALOGUE: Bangabandhu’s daughter and Bangabandhu’s foreign minister

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Syed Badrul Ahsan Syed Badrul Ahsan


Politics is often riddled with irony.

Dr. Kamal Hossain and Sheikh Hasina together energised the Awami League at a time when the Zia and then the Ershadmilitary regimes did all they could to destroy the party. In the early 1980s, with the Awami League riddled by factionalism, Kamal Hossain’s suggestion that Sheikh Hasina, then in exile in Delhi, be brought back home and put in charge of the party was enthusiastically accepted by all Bangabandhu followers. ZohraTajuddin, the brave standard bearer of the party in the dark Zia era, happily stepped aside to make way for Sheikh Hasina.

Long before the rupture that came between them, Sheikh Hasinaand Kamal Hossain together worked to ensure that the AwamiLeague, battered by the tragedy of August-November 1975 and the many conspiracies rampant against it, came together again. Sheikh Hasina acknowledged Kamal Hossain’s standing, both in the country and abroad, and put him forward as the party’s presidential nominee at the election of November 1981. Hossainlost, but he remained an important cog in the wheel of the Awami League.

When General Ershad seized power through a coup d’etat in March 1982, he went after Sheikh Hasina and Kamal Hossain. Both politicians were placed under arrest, to be freed in due course.

Then came the elections of 1986 and 1991. Bangabandhu’sforeign minister and Bangabandhu’s daughter still shared the Awami League stage. But a rift was beginning to stir between them, to a point where Kamal Hossain would be compelled to make his way out of the party, to form his Gano Forum.

This evening, the Prime Minister and the leader of the JatiyoOikyo Front will meet after ages, across the table.

That is the irony.

Dr. Kamal Hossain will be facing his old colleagues in the Awami League. Those who will be there from the AwamiLeague cannot but reflect, a little if not more, on how times have changed. In the last many years, Sheikh Hasina and KamalHossain have had little of the complimentary to push each other’s way. Mutual antipathy has only deepened the divide between them.

And yet both politicians have made their purposeful contributions to Bangladesh’s history.

In the thirty seven years she has been president of the AwamiLeague, Sheikh Hasina has moulded the party into a formidable political machine. Her leadership of the party and of the government remains unchallenged, despite the many criticisms of her style of functioning from her detractors. She has demonstrated courage by seeing the Bangabandhu murder trial, the war crimes trials and the August 2004 grenade blasts trial through to a successful conclusion. That will be part of her legacy — that where no one dared to move against such organized crime, she did and with credit.

Something of the father has characterized the actions of the daughter. Like Bangabandhu, Sheikh Hasina has been uncompromising in her core beliefs. And yet she has seen the need for pragmatism at times. While she has been vocal against the BNP and its ally the Jamaat, she has adopted a softly-softly approach to the Hefazat-e-Islam, the better not to rock the boat for her party and government.

Kamal Hossain’s legacy is already part of Bangladesh’s history. When he accuses Sheikh Hasina’s government of violating the Constitution every day, he is essentially pained by the damagehe sees being done to a document in whose formulation he played a pivotal role back in 1972. As a political being whoremains wedded to the concept of western parliamentary government, Kamal Hossain has always believed that authoritarianism in the name of democracy can leave societies badly fractured. He is not happy seeing his old party conducting politics in a manner that does not do justice to its traditional principles.

Kamal Hossain was a presence in Bangladesh’s original pantheon of leaders when the country emerged into freedom in 1971. He was young and idealistic, a constitutional expert whose abilities were put to proper use by the Father of the Nation. Today, despite all the innuendo and all the criticism hurled at him by his enemies, he holds the coveted position of elder statesman in the country. In his thirties, he negotiated for democracy and then for Bangladesh’s diplomacy. In his eighties, he is back in the role of a politician arguing the case for democracy.

Sheikh Hasina and Dr. Kamal Hossain will have a lot to talk about this evening — for old times’ sake and in the interest of the future.

(Syed Badrul Ahsan:  Contributing Columnist, Shottobani)

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