Bangladesh’s Ruling Awami League Plans To Restore Country’s Original Constitution, Repeal Amendment That Made It An ‘Islamic’ Nation

Jaideep Mazumdar

Nov 08, 2022, 03:06 PM | Updated 03:09 PM IST

Bangladesh Law Minister Anisul Huq.
Bangladesh Law Minister Anisul Huq.
  • Awami League is taking steps to fully restore the original character of the Bangladesh Constitution framed by the country's founding fathers.
  • This includes a move to abolish Islam as the state religion and give equal status to all religions.
  • The ruling Awami League of Bangladesh plans to restore the country’s original and secular Constitution adopted by the country’s Constituent Assembly on 4 November 1972. 

    The party also plans to repeal the 8th amendment to the Constitution that made Islam the state religion of the country. 

    Bangladesh Law Minister Anisul Huq announced in Dhaka that the government has, through the 15th amendment to the Constitution passed in June 2011 restored secularism and freedom of religion.

    “But Islam continues to be the state religion and we are working towards repealing that provision (Article 2A) in the Constitution that was inserted through the 8th amendment in June 1988. Once we do that, the original character of the 1972 Constitution framed by our founding fathers will be fully restored,” Huq told a gathering of jurists and others in Dhaka. 

    Article 2(A) making Islam the state religion was inserted into the Constitution during the rule of General Hussian Muhammad Ershad who had seized power in a bloodless coup in 1982 and installed himself as the country’s president. 

    Ershad was an Islamist under whose reign radical Islamism grew in Bangladesh. He established close ties with Pakistan and allowed the regressive and primitive Salafi Islam to take roots in Bangladesh. 

    Islamist clerics, who endorsed Ershad’s harsh reign, became powerful in Bangladesh and Islamist parties became strong and influential. 

    Ershad’s encouragement of Islamism, which also received endorsement from Pakistan, created turmoil in Bangladesh and put the large population of moderate Muslims and secularists at a severe disadvantage. 

    Ever since coming to power in 2008, the Awami League has been bringing in amendments to restore the original Constitution of 1972. 

    In June 2011, the Awami League government passed the 15th amendment that made significant changes to the Constitution. Apart from increasing reservation for women, it inserted two articles in the Constitution that precluded takeover of power by extra-Constitutional means. 

    The 15th amendment also restored secularism and freedom of religion, and included nationalism, socialism, democracy and secularism as the fundamental principles of state policy. It restored the status of Sheikh Mujibur Rahaman as the ‘Father of the Nation’. 

    Law Minister Huq rooted for “patience”.

    “We have to keep a bit more patience. After the killing of Bangabandhu (Sheikh Mujibur Rahaman), a situation was created in which people could not dare express their thoughts. If we can overcome this fear, we will be able to implement what Bangabandhu did with the 1972 Constitution,” he said. 

    Huq’s call for patience is understandable since the Awami League government’s attempts to restore the 1972 Constitution in letter and spirit and abolish Islam as the state religion is facing fierce opposition from the country’s powerful Islamists and Muslim clergy, as well as from the opposition Bangaldesh Nationalist Party (BNP) which has often allied with hardline Muslim parties. 

    Bangladesh has powerful hardline Islamist parties, foremost among them being the Islami Oikyo Jote, Hefazat-e-Islam Bangladesh, Bangladesh Jamaat-e-Islami, Bangladesh Muslim League and Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam Bangladesh. 

    These organisations have threatened street protests and violence if the government goes ahead with its plan and removes Islam as the state religion. 

    “We are now mobilising public opinion in favour of abolishing Islam as the state religion and giving equal status to all religions. Once we feel the time is right and an overwhelming majority of the people are with us, we will move on this,” Huq told Swarajya over phone from Dhaka. 

    Jaideep Mazumdar is an associate editor at Swarajya.

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