Mostafa Kamal Majumder
The Old Sangsad Bhaban at Nakhalpara was where I started my Parliament reporting. My seniors most of the time used to engage me to cover the question hour held at the start of sittings every day. The 1979 Parliament is sometimes referred to have had the richest composition with representation from Bangladesh’s political parties. The BNP had an overwhelming majority and the Bangladesh Awami League formed the Opposition. The Islamic Democratic League had a sizeable number of members followed by the Bangladesh Muslim League under the leadership of Khan A Sabur. Mizanur Rahman Chowdhury and another parliamentarian were elected from Awami League (Mizan). There were then four young musketeers in the opposition – Rashed Khan Menon, Shahjahan Siraj, Salahuddin Quader Chowdhury and Suranjit Sengupta who used to make the Parliament lively with their enthusiastic participation. Rashed Khan Menon, Sajahan Siraj and Surajit Sengupta were vocal in their attacks on Khan A Sabur who was blamed for siding with the Pakistan government during Bangladesh’s War of Liberation. There was an ML Parliamentarian – Almas Hossain – who could speak aloud even without the microphone to attract the attention of the Speaker. One promising Parliamentarian Anisuzzaman Khokan did not come back to subsequent parliaments. Another promising young parliamentarian, Ibrahim Khalil, did not live long to continue in the race. Despite their strong opposition to Khan A Sabur the young parliamentarians from the opposition used to listen to him in pin-drop silence whenever he used to get the floor to speak. One day Khan A Sabur was making his submission in English and a number of opposition members raised protests together drawing the attention of Speaker Mirza Golam Hafiz as to why he was not speaking in Bangla. Khan A Sabur switched over to Bangla and completed the remaining part of his speech in the mother tongue without uttering a single word in English again. Asaduzzaman Khan was the leader of the opposition. Parliamentary debates with the Participation of Mizanur Rahman Chowdhury, Asaduzzaman Khan, Sudhangsu Sekhar Haldar, Prof. Muzaffar Ahmed, Suranjit Sengupta, Rashed Khan Menon, Shahjahan Siraj and Khan A Sabur were of a high standard. Sometimes when the opposition used to make their points on a Particular issue it seemed the treasury bench would have little in defence. But when Prime Minister Shah Azizur Rahman rose to speak for the treasury bench opposition arguments seemed falling like a house of cards. The standard of deliberations was quite high.
In between sittings I visited Speaker Mirza Golam Hafiz at his chamber for a maximum of three days. When and why this old guard of the BNP developed a liking for me I did not know. His kindness towards me was reflected during sessions of the fifth, sixth parliaments. BNP did not take part in the third and the fourth parliamentary elections held under the Ershad regime. Awami League and Jamaat-e-Islami did take part in the third but both the parties boycotted the fourth parliament election along with the BNP.
As Law Minister, Mirza Golam Hafiz steered the Eleventh and the Twelfth Constitution amendment bills in the fourth Parliament. He used to defend the BNP from attacks coming from the Awami League for not meeting their demand of scrapping the indemnity ordinance that debarred trial of the killing of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman along with most of the members of his family on August 15 1975. His argument was, the knots of history would open gradually not in a day or two.
It will be interesting to note how BNP lost the willing support that the Jatiya Party was ready to give at the persuasion of the former in the passage of the 12th Amendment Act. The BNP had managed to enlist the support of the JP, the Jamaat and other smaller parties to pass constitutional amendments as the Awami League pledged not to cooperate. When this was the mood in the House, the Awami League changed its stance and pleaded they all along fought for the restoration of Parliamentary democracy in the country and sought to know what was the need for support from ‘autocratic Jatiya Party’ to pass amendment bills. I heard Barrister Moudud Ahmed, then the leader of the JP Parliamentary Party to murmur at the JP room in the Parliament building, ‘Tofail Ahmed has done the damage’. On that day Ex-JP minister Anwar Hossain Manju who was elected to Parliament even though he remained in hiding came to the Parliament building to take the oath. After taking the oath he first came to the JP room. In a soft voice, his first observation was ‘I feel pity for Barrister Abul Hasnat’ who had joined the JP one month before its downfall in early December 1990. ‘We have consolation for being treated as guilty for remaining in power for nine years, but poor Hasnat? He now faces the same amount of guilt as us.’
By getting support from the Awami League BNP forgot about the JP and at the persuasion of AL leaders in Parliament threw their leader HM Ershad into the Dhaka Central Jail from a civil building turned sub-jail. JP members later voted for the 12th Amendment Bill that paved the way for a switch over to the Parliamentary system. They, however, abstained when the 11th Amendment Bill was passed in Parliament ensuring the return of Acting President Justice Shahabuddin Ahmed to the Bench as Chief Justice. JP in time forged united movement with the Awami League and Jamaat in favour of a constitutional provision for a caretaker government to hold elections of Parliament. BNP had no option to have the next election with small parties in February 1996 as these three parties boycotted the same. BNP passed the constitutional amendment paving the way for the caretaker provision in the Constitution and lost the subsequent general election held four months later. It is to be noted that Jamaat’s attempt to move a private member’s bill for the caretaker provision was scornfully rejected at the committee level by the AL, the JP as well as the BNP when the major constitutional amendments were considered.
Sheikh Razzaque Ali made his mark as the Speaker of the fifth Parliament. He was knowledgeable, accurate and swift to make decisions and thus ran the Parliament smoothly under his stewardship. Sheikh Razzaque Ali became speaker after his predecessor Abdur Rahman Biswas was elevated to the position of President. As Speaker Shaikh Razzaque Ali became so influential that one day an opposition resolution was passed in Parliament for the setting up of Coast Guard, taking advantage of poor attendance in the treasury bench. The resolution was moved by opposition member Nurul Islam Moni who subsequently joined the BNP. Shaikh Razzaque Ali used to stop government ministers if they rose or spoke without formulating a rule of the rules of procedure. One day he picked up a thread of difference with Law Minister Mirza Golam Hafiz and ended the day’s sitting on that note. Mirza Golam Hafiz was visibly very angry but could do nothing. I was covering the session. Before starting for my office I went to the treasury bench lobby and saw him. He took me to his Parliament chamber and briefed me on his viewpoints in the presence of the law secretary. I said I got his points but would not be able to do a story on ‘war between the executive and the legislature’ without a copy of the Constitution because I didn’t have one with me. The secretary had a copy with him but it contained official seals. Mirza Golam Hafiz said ‘I am inclined to giving him the copy he will return tomorrow.’ The secretary had no choice.
I seldom went to the secretariat office of Mirza Golam Hafiz. But whenever I was there he used to start endless gossips with me forgetting about all office work. One day the secretary of law Mirza ….told me, ‘If you don’t mind, please come to the minister in the second half of the day. Today all our office work have remained pending.’ One day in 1994 I went to the Minister to invite him to inaugurate the refurbished and computerised National Press Club library the day after. Mirza Golam Hafiz with a voice of mild anger told me in reply, do you think a minister’s schedule can be arranged so easily. I said as convener of the library I have decided that he will be the chief guest at the inaugural ceremony. Within a few minutes, he asked his Private Secretary and the APS to arrange for radio, TV and BSS coverage of the programme as preparation for his coming in less than 24 hours’ notice. Despite this level of intimacy I never asked for any favour for myself from the very influential minister in the BNP government.
22 June 2020
Mostafa Kamal Majumder