Is liberal civil law delivering good to the people?

Maswood Alam Khan from Washington, USA
Rapid Action Battalion (RAB), an elite anti-crime unit of Bangladesh Police, has earned all the bad names for its involvement in extrajudicial killings in the name of crossfire since its inception in 2004 during the rule of Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP)-led alliance. Extrajudicial actions of RAB have been decried and criticized in the strongest imaginable languages by the judiciary, human rights organizations, different international bodies and by countries in both developing and developed democracies.

Still, the present Awami League (AL)-led government, which usually shuns anything (good or bad) initiated by the BNP, their arch political rival, has kept RAB intact by its name and spirit and followed the path BNP had chosen in bolstering the strength of RAB and exulting at the success of RAB. Why? Because RAB was and still is popular. So popular was RAB that Awami League was in constant fear of losing election to BNP back in 2006, in spite of a lot of bad reputations in respect of corruptions and mismanagements the previous BNP-led government had gathered. The prime reason of Awami League’s fear in 2006 was the huge popularity of RAB made possible by BNP.

Notwithstanding their lack of accountability and irresponsibility in respect of extrajudicial killings, the RAB, since its inception, has also done some commendable jobs like seizing thousands of illegal arms and ammunitions and apprehending several high-profile terrorists. When it was found that BNP did not spare even some of their own prominent stalwarts, like David of Narayanganj, from being a defenseless victim to die at the hands of RAB in a crossfire, general people appreciated the then government and welcomed RAB as their last resort of seeking release from the clutch of terrorists.

On the same count, the last two-year military-backed ‘caretaker government’ had also earned a lot of bad names for their unconstitutional activities, especially for their undue interventions in the judicial activities and reign of terror they unleashed in the names of court cases and police remands.

Still, the present democratically elected government is also following some fishy paths and examples chosen by the ‘caretaker government’ in respects of infusing terror into people’s minds in the names of police remands and their tired cliché ‘law taking its own course’. Why? Because the government found the measures most effective not only in controlling crimes but also in discouraging the excessive indulgences of opposition political parties in calling their ‘hartals’ etc., on flimsy grounds.

Notwithstanding some of their questionable roles in favouring some political quarters and undertaking some undemocratic initiatives, the two-year long ‘caretaker government’ had also brought relief to people’s mind by some of their revolutionary steps in the judiciary and executive branches of the government that would have been simply impossible to achieve in any civilian government. It was possible because the caretaker government enjoyed covert support of the military and most importantly they had no political ambitions.

Comment made in an interview with a private television channel that ‘only martial law can ensure trial of alleged stocks offenders’ by Khondkar Ibrahim Khaled, a renowned banker, currently Chairman of Bangladesh Krishi Bank, who led a four-member inquiry team into the December-January stock market upheaval and submitted its report on April 07, has provoked an uproar and drawn fierce criticism from top lawyers some of whom even termed his comment “seditious”.

In a subsequent interview with the BBC Bangla service, Ibrahim Khaled, however, claimed that he had not been properly quoted in the media about what he actually said in his TV interview.

Let us assume that Khondkar Ibrahim Khaled truly made the comments that ‘only martial law can ensure proper trial of the alleged stock offenders’. The question is, “Why should a man of integrity like Ibrahim Khaled utter such a comment, even if his utterance was just a gaffe?” The reason is: “We are fed up with the autocratic democracy, corrupt executives and lackadaisical judiciary. Litigants are not getting fair and timely justice in most of the cases. We have become desperate in quest for an alternative to the present system of governance the way we were fed up with police and got a modicum of relief from RAB though their role was and still is undemocratic and very much contrary to the fair play of judiciary”.

Khondkar Ibrahim Khaled perhaps wanted to say ‘only a martial-law-like government could punish the culprits in summary trials that could bring a sense of relief to thousands of victims who were ruthlessly fleeced by a handful of financial terrorists’.

Brute martial law is undoubtedly condemnable as RAB was and still is or the two-year-long caretaker government was. Democracy and civility demand civil administration and conventional civil laws as we have been taught in our schools by the teachers of political science. In a true democracy, as we learned, there must be complete separation between three branches of a democracy—executive, legislative and judiciary—which are supposed to function in watertight compartments having no scope for any of the branches to interfere with or intervene in any of the three vital organs in civil government. But, what is the state in these three organs of our country we are finding?

In a country like ours where money talks very loudly on behalf of police and judges, where traffic police must use a sharp shoe-making awl (a pointed tool for making holes in leather) for puncturing tires of rickshaws to ensure traffic discipline, where politicians on their strength of full-throated slogans and lectures and ill-gotten ‘money power’ can become lawmakers, liberal democratic government, I dare say, does not work because the majority of the ordinary people and the people they elect to represent them in the parliament are not familiar enough with such things as science and economics or the confusing intricacies of civil law, international law and ethics. In their ignorance our people tend to vote for politicians who beguile them with appearances and nebulous talks.

Hitler, we should not forget, was elected by a democratic vote, and it is surely not irrelevant to ask whether those who voted for him did not suffer from an unacceptable degree of ignorance and lack of political education.

So, before we can educate ourselves, before our politicians would agree that they themselves also need to be screened thoroughly about their ability to lead the nation the way highly educated people are scanned by levels of tests and interviews before they are offered a highly paid job and before corruptions are eradicated totally from our society we should carry on, at least as a stopgap measure, our day-to-day governance with RAB (forgetting their extrajudicial activities) to control law and order and we should also allow traffic surgeons to carry in their hands the cobbler’s awls to discipline the unruly rickshaw-pullers. We may, I dare say, also think about whether it is at all possible to devise a political system that could give birth to a martial-law-like government Khondkar Ibrahim Khaled deliberately or reflexively gave inkling to in his apparent faux pas!

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