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Above: Sheikh Mujibur Rahman with then Prime Minister of India Indira Gandhi/Photo: mofa.gov.bd

A plea in the Dhaka High Court has forced courts and government offices to display the father of the nation’s portrait

By Prakash Bhandari in Dhaka

From mid-October, courts in Bangladesh will display portraits of the Bangabandhu, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman. This followed a writ petition by a senior Hindu lawyer, Subir Nandi Das, to Dhaka High Court asking that all government offices, including courts, display the father of the nation’s portrait.

In 2001, when Sheikh Hasina Wajed was in power, the government enacted legislation making it mandatory for all government offices to display a portrait of the Bangabandhu. This was done to remind people of his great contribution in the creation of Bangladesh. But in 2003 when a new government was formed with Khaleda Zia as PM, this legislation was repealed. “It was petty politics and the contribution of Bangabandhu was forgotten. I was hurt by this and decided to restore Mujib’s glory,” said Das.

Das stated that Article 4(A) of Bangladesh’s Constitution states: “The portrait of the Father of the Nation, Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, shall be preserved and displayed at the offices of the President, the Prime Minister, the Speaker and the Chief Justice and in head and branch offices of all government and semi-government offices, autonomous bodies, statutory public authorities, government and non-government educational institutions, embassies and missions of Bangladesh abroad.” But government offices were not following this.

A bench of Justices FRM Nazmul Ahsan and KM Kamrul Kader of the High Court passed the order and asked authorities why their inaction to preserve and display the portrait of Bangabandhu in courtrooms should not be deemed illegal. They also asked the concerned public agencies to file a progress report on the implementation of the order. “There are many examples of countries displaying the portraits of their founding fathers or national heroes at courtrooms, including India, Pakistan and America; though our constitution has made it mandatory to display Bangabandhu’s portrait at courtrooms, they are not complying with the provision. We challenged that.” The Court gave the authorities two months to carry out the order.

The Bangladesh Supreme Court (SC) Registrar General Dr Md Zakir Hossain told India Legal that the SC administration has already collected around 100 portraits of Bangabandhu following the HC directive. They will be displayed and preserved in the courtrooms of the Appellate Division and High Court division of the SC before it reopens on October 13, he said. Lower courts had already started displaying Bangabandhu’s portraits, he said. “Bangladesh is perhaps the only country that has a constitutional provision in the name of a person, Bangabandhu. It’s a great honour to the individual who created Bangladesh and later became a martyr,” he said.

Neither India nor Pakistan, responsible for the creation of Bangladesh in 1971, has constitutional provisions to display the portraits of Mahatma Gandhi or Mohammed Ali Jinnah, respectively. In 2012, in response to an RTI from Lucknow-based student Aishwarya Parashar, the home ministry said no action was taken on her plea to the president to declare Mahatma Gandhi the Father of the Nation as the Constitution does not permit any titles except educational and military ones.

In India, there have been ugly episodes over portraits of leaders of neighbouring countries. In April 2019, BJP MP from Aligarh Satish Gautam said he would ensure that Jinnah’s portrait in AMU is sent to Pakistan. He wrote to the V-C of AMU seeking the removal of the picture. Violence broke out after a right-wing protest.

There is much ado about portraits.

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