Abul Kashem Fazlul Haque
Abul Kashem Fazlul Haque

Educationist, thinker and retired professor of Dhaka University’s Bangla department, Abul Kashem Fazlul Haque, in an interview with Prothom Alo, talks about the system of government, politics, society, education and the future of Bangladesh.

Very bluntly, Abul Kashem Fazlul Haque contends that Bangladesh is not going down the correct path, though those in power are confident the country is on the right track. However, he doesn’t blame them alone. He blames the entire nation.

“Those with more power and wealth are more responsible for the situation,” the retired professor said, speaking in a recent interview with Prothom Alo on the governance, education, politics, society and general state of affairs in the country.

He said only the proud moments of the country’s history were highlighted, but if the faults, errors and weaknesses were discussed, then we could understand how and why we have been pitched into this pitiful political predicament.

He said, “There was no national unity in the true sense during the six-point movement of the '60s. Awami League took up a ‘go solo’ strategy. It was leading the movement, but the party hadn’t been democratically organised. And in Bangabandhu’s absence during the independence war, the leadership was beset with all sorts of problems. These problems grew all the more complex during Bangabandhu’s rule (1972-75). The opposition parties did not play a constructive role. The role of most of the intellectuals was not good either. The entire nation fell into moral morass. This was evidence of national failure.”

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Democracy was the mainstay of Bangladesh’s emergence as an independent country. Now, 49 years on, how does that democracy fare?

In response, Abul Kashem Fazlul Haque said that undoubtedly democracy had been one of the main objectives of creating Bangladesh, but because of the manner in which the country was run ever since being established, democracy is now a lost cause. “There is no point in nonsensical discussions about democracy. Democracy needs to be discussed with full importance,” he said, “from the very ABC’s. There is nothing left of our politics now. But there are possibilities in our public life. The public is asleep now. The sleeping public must be aroused.”

The major parties of the anti-Ershad movement were prone to autocracy themselves. The movement was all about usurping the government and taking over power. Though the slogans were about democracy, there was no preparation to install a democratic system

The question was posed about the obstacles at the very outset of independence, when the ruling party, victorious in the Liberation War, wanted to keep all power to itself. Also, a faction of the left-leaning parties did not even want to accept independence.

Abul Kashem Fazlul Haque replied that the Tajuddin government on 11 December 1971 banned four political parties for opposing the creation of Bangladesh and for collaborating with the Pakistan army during the war. These parties were Muslim League, Nezam-e-Islam, Jamaat-e-Islami and Pakistan Democratic Party (PDP). All the other parties were in favour of independence. But a few parties were opposed to Awami League. Opposition to Awami League does not mean opposition to independence.

“All pro-independence forces should have been politically active from 1971. It was wrong to brush aside all anti-Awami League parties, terming them as pro-Pakistan and enemies of the state. Those who were actually against independence or against the rule of law, should have been punished,” he said, adding, “The politics of the leftists was certainly wrong.”

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When asked why democracy couldn’t be established with the toppling of autocracy though the 1990 mass uprising, he said that the major parties of the anti-Ershad movement were prone to autocracy themselves. The movement was all about usurping the government and taking over power. Though the slogans were about democracy, there was no preparation to install a democratic system. Democratic political parties and preparation are required to establish democracy.

Coming to the breakdown of the election system, Abul Kashem Fazlul Haque said during the anti-government movement of the eighties, Awami League, BNP and other parties restricted the concept of democracy to changing governments through elections. The socioeconomic and cultural policy aspects of democracy were discarded.

Neither Awami League nor BNP are bothered anymore about nation building. They are simply focused on ruling the country. None of them is nationalist now

He said that there was no possibility of establishing democracy solely based on elections in Bangladesh. Awami League, BNP and other governments, even caretaker governments, had done all sorts of things. They did not keep the election commission above controversy. They took no proper party preparation for elections. For a proper election in democracy, democratic parties are required.

Abul Kashem Fazlul Haque also blamed the World Bank and various imperialist forces for the failure of Bangladesh and the failure of democracy in Bangladesh. The prospects of democracy in Bangladesh have been destroyed. New politics is needed for democracy now.

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Authoritarianism and militancy are both threats for Bangladesh. Can one be destroyed if the other remains in intact?

In reply, the political thinker said that democracy was required in Bangladesh to eliminate authoritarianism and militancy. Operation clean heart, encounters, crossfire, gunfights, all sorts of exercises were taken up against terrorism, but these problems can never be solved in this manner. Bangladesh signed an agreement with the US as part of the War against Terror. This anti-fundamentalist movement has successfully revived religious forces in politics. Much thought must be given before taken any steps now. There is no alternative to democracy. A solution cannot be brought about overnight.

Moving on to the debate over the ideological base of Bangladesh, and the ongoing debate of being Bangali or Bangladeshi, or even the question of Islamic rule, where will it all end?

The Bangali-Bangladeshi debate no longer exists, asserted Abul Kashem Fazlul Haque, saying, “That was a debate centred on nationalism. Nationalism is needed for nation-building, for national unity or consensus. Neither Awami League nor BNP are bothered anymore about nation building. They are simply focused on ruling the country. None of them is nationalist now. Some elements ruminate about a Muslim Bengal. All debates must be resolved through discussion, criticism and democratic debate.”

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Abul Kashem Fazlul Haque himself was at one time a part of leftist politics, but now says that left politics is not a solution. So was he mistaken all these days?

He responded that left politics have been practiced in a wrong manner in the country. Back them there had been potential, but it never materialised. Now circumstances had undergone fundamental changes. The prospects of left politics have also ended. There could have been mistakes, but these cannot be analysed so briefly. “I have elaborated these matters in some of my books,” he said.

There has been quite a stir and protest over the killing of retired major Sinha in Cox’s Bazar, but hardly any protests were heard about similar killings in the past. Why?

There is no thinking in the country. This lack of thinking is the biggest indication of disaster

The professor was clear in this reply, “The government and everyone else is placing more importance on this killing because a retired army officer was shot dead. Actually all killings should be given importance. No extrajudicial killing is acceptable. Bangladesh is being tagged as a country bereft of justice.”

Next, appraising the education system of the country, the academic said that there were gross errors in the country’s education policy and system. That is why the standard of education had deteriorated. The entire country was run by such policy and system. There was no move or movement from any quarter to improve the state of affairs. “Actually this is a national failure,” he said, “And the entire country is to blame. But those who are powerful, are all the more to blame.”

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Bangladesh has seen much economic development, but on the flip side, the gap between the rich and the poor has grown. How can this be addressed?

“This must be resolved,” came the firm reply. “There is need for moral growth of both the people and the leadership. This applies to the entire world. This calls for national as well as global discussion. Fundamental restructuring of the state system and the world order is necessary.”

The question was then asked: your writings reflect concern about the state and politics, but what is the resolution?

“I express my concerns over the crises and I offer solutions too. Thought is needed and so is work. But political parties of sound character are needed to carry out the work. Change must be brought about through political movement.”

“There is a booklet ‘Atash Dofa: Amader Mukti O Unnotir Karmashuchi’ (28-Points: Programme for our Freedom and Development) which I have been using for 16 years as a directive. This must be implemented. I haven’t found anything better that this.”

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When his son Dipon was killed by militants, Abul Kashem Fazlul Haque had said in angry frustration, “I do not seek justice.” But justice is a fundamental right. What is happening about the trial for Dipon’s killing?

“On 30 October it will be 5 years that Dipon was killed. The hearing of the case began just before the outbreak of coronavirus. Three or four days of the hearing took place and then it was halted because of coronavirus,” said Abul Kashem Fazlul Haque.

Does Abul Kashem Fazlul Haque have freedom as a writer? Does he face threats?

Over the past 10 years, the writer replied, freedom of expression and self-expression has been crushed by the government’s laws, court orders and so on. Students, youth, young university teachers are being arrested and imprisoned for their statements on Facebook. An abnormal political situation prevails in the country. More than the government, it is the ruling party that wields its power in such a manner at every level of the society that the people are too afraid to speak out for justice and law. The political situation is totally abnormal. The intellectuals too are in the ruling party grasp. There is no thinking in the country. This lack of thinking is the biggest indication of disaster.

* This interview, originally published in the print edition of Prothom Alo, has been rewritten in report form by Ayesha Kabir