President Md. Abdul Hamid is an exception as he always has been closely associated with the people throughout his political career. In the current democratic parliament, the president's position is ornamental and his office and profession are ceremonial. At times, he termed presidency to a prisoner's life and complained of feeling alone. Despite so, this position has the scope of the supreme and highest esteemed guardianship of the state. The people, especially the opposition party, always expect the role of a conscientious protector from him.
The president, by dint of his position, is the chancellor of all the public and private universities of the country. Though the education ministry actually sends the recommendations for VC appointments to the prime minister's office, it is the president who officially appoints them. Except the authority of approval, he does not have any power over the recommendation. No such culture has yet been established here, too. Despite so, he once took the initiative to resolve the deadlock created between the ruling and opposition parties. The negotiation was not effective, but it proves he can talk for the welfare of the state and society and take initiative.
Recently, in his chancellor’s speech at Dhaka University (DU) and Jagannath University (JnU) convocations, the president has directly criticised the ongoing corruption, mismanagement, teachers' negligence in duties and failure to contain ragging and so on. At the 52nd convocation at DU on 9 December, he not only chastised but also urged the teachers to stop evening courses and various financial works other than research and lessons at the universities. Again on 11 January at the JnU maiden convocation, he strongly denounced several VCs for corruption and delinquency. With his usual humors, he pointed out the corruption of the teachers and the guardians as well as identified the irregularities of the students.
Such criticism, on part of the president, has assured the people and raised their expectations. The DU authorities have been compelled to rethink their evening courses. This shows conscientious speech from the state’s topmost position influences the concerned ones despite his position is ceremonial. The other universities running evening courses are also reconsidering these. It seems, which is positive, that president Abdul Hamid feels moral responsibility for his role as a university chancellor. His role should not be limited to formal speeches during convocations and other sectors. As a president as well as chancellor, he can deliver clearer directives that compel the chancellor, teacher, and student and concerned ones to feel the urge to stop such irregularities. The inclination behind his recent speeches reflects public opinion. We expect, he will carry out his role as a responsible chancellor too.
As a guardian, the president can implement this moral conscientious role in other sectors also. The executive section of the state, in many cases, is divided and lingering in an impasse. Emergency reformation works like decision on eliminating PEC (Primary Education Certificate) or elevation of primary education level up to eighth grade are in a deadlock. This is hindering both the progress of education as well as the creation of a new generation capable of moral, lively human values. Strengthening the University Grants Commission and forming a higher education commission are also in a standstill. The education act is at a standstill while the education policy is not being properly implemented. Democracy is rendered nearly insignificant as the parliament's role and lack of good governance created anxiety and depression among the people.
Two things should be noted. The president is a man of humor and as a seasoned field politician he makes fun with the supporters. But the degree of the humor should be considered as he carries out his role as a president and a chancellor. On occasions, the propensity should be reined in. Presidency is such a top state position that it almost enjoys indemnity which is why called His Excellency. So his words or speech should be considered as kind of directives.
The position of the president is one of distinction. In Bangladesh, many could not maintain the honour of the position. Several presidents had become ministers or parliament members after their term was over, one even left his party. It's undesirable that a president, chief justice or army chief would assume any political or professional role after retirement. Several of our army chiefs have joined in politics and several secretaries are following the suit. When such a person is beaten on the roads by a police man and the picture gets published in the media, it slanders the height and esteem of the position. Though there is no legal restriction, but everyone cannot do everything as the society can be controlled by law but is actually run by social customs, traditions and legacy. This is the culture of the human society which is created by people. This should not be overlooked or dishonoured.
President Abdul Hamid did not compromise with his own ideal and principle for position and power. We expect that he will set up a bright image of presidency in our country.
*Abul Momen is an educationist and author. This piece originally published in Prothom Alo print edition has been rewritten in English by Nusrat Nowrin.