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Opposition Leader Suhrawardy's Speech

PM addresses the AssemblyOpposition leader Mr Husain Shaheed Suhrawardy's speech on the Fourth Draft Constitution (later adopted as the first Constitution of Pakistan, 1956) was a brilliant specimen of parliamentary rhetoric and clearly earmarked him as the country's future prime minister.


The Speech of Mr H. S. Suhrawardy as Leader of the Opposition on The Constitution

National Assembly, 31, 1956

Excerpts

... It is indeed a great pity that the Constitution has not received that degree of support which the framers of the Constitution thought they will be able to get through the medium of persons, whom, they believe, represent their country. But unfortunately it has been found wanting. What after all is the purpose of this Constitution? What after all is the purpose of the general election thereafter? It is to ensure political stability. That is the main function. When the Honourable Members form the other side of the House said that let us have a Constitution of any kind whatsoever, that doest not solve that problem of political stability which is absolutely necessary today for Pakistan. If the Constitution is of such a nature that it will be brought into the arena of party politics again it will be considered a matter for election propaganda. Thus we have not attained that political stability through which we can start for the purpose of serving the interests of the country. Therefore, Sir, Plitical stability is the most important item before us and it is then not by framing a Constitution, will you attain that prestige in the international world which you think, you will attain, but you will attain it only if there is political stability in the country because it is to that, that the international world looks whether you are capable of yielding those fruits that you promise that you will be able to yield.

Sir, I had recently been to East Bengal for the purpose of assessing for myself whether the opposition that we heard in the papers and voiced on the floor of this House was a mere paper opposition or was it really grounded in the will of the people. I have, Sir, no hesitation in stating that people of Bengal are greatly perturbed.

… The people in East Bengal have no confidence in the Ministry here or in the Constitution prepared by them and they desire that adequate provision should be made in the Constitution for their welfare and development and this matter should not be left to the administration or maladministration of the Ministry. The feeling there is of such a nature that it is extremely doubtful if the Ministry of that place can withstand the pressure, as is borne out by the fact that it hesitates to call a meeting of the Legislature and put its confidence to the test … in approaching constitutional proposals, I do so with only and objective. It must ensure and promote the stability and integrity of Pakistan. To me and my party, all of us residing within Pakistan as its citizens and subjects are one nation, namely Pakistani Nation, irrespective of the provinces or the regions from which we come, irrespective of the origin, of our race, and tribe, irrespective of the religion, caste or creed. We are one State and we are one people. … To my mind, Sir, as a Pakistani, I say that I cannot visualize any period of time when there will be secession between the two wings of Pakistan. I cannot conceive even the idea of secession. We have got to live together. … what keeps us together is this: the realization that neither part of Pakistan can live without the other. We are dependent upon each other in a hundred thousand ways and therefore it will be fatuous on the part of any one to say "Let us seek our own destiny elsewhere without the help and co-operation of the other:. …To me the development and the understanding is necessary on both sides. East Pakistan is as much concerned with the welfare of West Pakistan and Pakistan as I hope the West Pakistan is concerned with the welfare of East Pakistan and Pakistan as a whole, but then if you really have a genuine desire to reach a mutual settlement which is absolutely essential for the governments of East Pakistan and West Pakistan, we must get together as soon as possible, instead of fighting each other, even on the floor of this House. …There is no denying the fact that there has hardly been any development in East Bengal worth the name, compared to the development on this side of the country. We wish this country well. We are happy that it has been developed. After all while Pakistan is being strengthened it is advisable if both the wings are developed equally and it would certainly be weakened if one side is developed only and the other remains undeveloped. But surely the people from East Bengal too have the right to come forward and claim some consideration form you. Surely, they have got the right to come and say that during all these years East Bengal has been impoverished in several ways. I do not want to juggle with figures. These things are facts which are before us. There has hardly been any development in that part of the country. By putting a jute mill in that wing you think that is sufficient development for 4 crores of the population that are living between wind and water, whose subsistence is so low that the slightest alteration in prices pushes them to starvation. Mind you the British Government did not take a piece out of India for the administration of India. They took nothing from here to England for that purpose and the money that went from here went as interest on the capital in business or trade. Has it been forgotten that the main brunt of our charge against the British was that our country was getting impoverished because money was being sent out of the country to England? And this is exactly what, unfortunately, is happening in East Pakistan. Money is going out from there and it is not being replenished; our people, there, are getting poorer and poorer.

... Sir, the resources of East Bengal have been utilized for the purpose of the development in this part of the country but the development of East Bengal could proceed side by side. East Bengal is riverine. Canals have been dug here but we have got natural rivers. What is the position of the rivers there? Could not attention be paid to cleaning the silted rivers and canals? Today the position is East Bengal is very distressing and I am very much alarmed.

… And, after all, can it be denied that we have received considerable foreign aid from various sources, and that we are receiving that foreign aid and can it be denied that hardly a small percentage of it has been spent on East Pakistan.

If it is a case of foreign aid, surely both the wings have a right to take the benefit of it. Then, Sir, there is another matter over which the people of East Bengal feel and that is the question of defense and of bases, Sir, I would not go into the question of strategy; that is a matter that the army should look after. But I will maintain that the people in East Bengal can be trained to be a fine military force as they were in the old days. It was the Bengal regiment that created a reputation for itself long before the other regiment, possibly about the same time as the Madras Regiment, created a name for itself. Now here something could be done; some attention could be paid to the military training and whether you produce soldiers or not, whether East Bengal can be defended or not against aggression in East Bengal, whether West Pakistan can be defended only in West Pakistan, these are matters into which I will not enter but this much I am certain that every patriotic citizen desires that he should be associated with the defense of his country.

… After all East Bengal is not such a backward area as to have justified all this under-development, that you say, that people are not coming forward and there is nothing there as if the people are primitive or something to that effect. There is absolutely so justification for this view.

… Now, let us come to the provisions of this Constitution. Is it really honestly and improvement on the 1935 ACT? I can hardly see that it is so in any respect. The lists are there as they were before, powers are there, just as they were before. You have merely called if Federal Constitution, whereas it was not federal previously. But same lists existed; there had been some modification but the same list I, List II and List III are there. In the days when India was a unitary Government you still had the same lists I, II and III and so what is the difference that you can show from the Government of India Act. You can say that the residuary powers have been given to the Provinces under this constitution. But what are residuary powers? Do they ever come in for exercise? The lists have been framed by persons who are expert in Where, Sir, You have differed from the 1935 Act, it has always been done to the determent of democracy and against the interests of this country. May I just point out a few instances and then ask you whether you should not make some efforts to bring it into line with progressive thought?

Take the case of the powers of the President … You have given to the President the powers of the British sovereign as they stand of late. The British sovereign has supreme Powers, but there is, in Britain a Convention, Convention which no sovereign may dare to break. It is an unwritten convention and the powers of the sovereign are unwritten. No sooner you put that down in your book, no sooner you put that down in the Constitution, no sooner that becomes justice able, that convention will be thrown overboard. You cannot rely upon them in law and in order to enforce conventions you cannot rely upon them in law; you have got to go through the process of chaos, disturbances and revolution and I would certainly not like to go through that process. Better far that you should not define the powers of the President in so far as that of the British sovereign, or, if you define them, then also define them with those conventions by which those powers are circumscribed. I think, Sir, with regard to the dissolution, viz, the power of the President to dissolve an Assembly when he is of the opinion that the Ministry has lost the confidence of the country, I think Sir, that this thing is so obviously ridiculous that I am sure that the Government will either withdraw it, or place something else a bit more reasonable. To leave it to the President to judge about the possibilities that you have lost the confidence of the country is fantastic in a democratic Constitution. Yes, if he thinks that a present Ministry presides, then, some powers might be invoked, but to go and dissolve the legislature on that ground because they have lost the confidence of the people is a vastly different matter. Then, Sir, a very very important power has been given to the President which will override the entire Constitution, viz, power to declare emergency. All the power to declare an emergency is vested in the President……

… Then, Sir, let us take another provision in this constitution, viz, that of fundamental rights. Why these fundamental rights have been absolutely put down in the Constitution if provisos were a necessary attachment to them. If these fundamental rights have got to be hedged round with all kinds of provisos, circumscribed by this under these circumstances, that under those circumstances, as so on, what is the use of these fundamental rights? You have taken them from the Indian Constitution…

The Honourable Mr I. I. Chundrigar : I have taken them from some other document.

Mr H. S. Suhrawardy: Some other document, possibly, but, then the Indian Constitution must have borrowed them also from some other document and therefore, they are of the same pattern and same origin, but I have very great doubts whether the Constitution from which the Honourable Member took these fundamental rights contains all those provisos and hindrances which have been enshrined here. I have compared it even with the Indian Constitution. The then Constitution has certain provisos, had certain restrictions but it is very very important word, viz, "reasonable". There were reasonable restrictions and as soon as that word is put in well, that word "reasonable" has been left out – nobody can do anything which the rights guarantee in so far as they can be invoked in a court of law, but, if in the Constitution you have reasonable restrictions and the word "reasonable" becomes justiciable, at once the courts will then be in a position to say – if the legislature put down the reasonable restrictions in the fundamental rights – that these are unconstitutional because they are not reasonable. Therefore, sir, please do not delude us by putting this word that you have been able to put in the fundamental rights. The fundamental rights are of no value at all …

... But then, Sir, there are also certain hiatuses in these Fundamental Rights and Directive Principles which I hope will be filled up. I do not find anything either in the Rights of Directive Principles to look after the interest of the agriculturists and labour, and to prevent them from exploitation. There is a general clause; an attempt, I believe, will be made to promote the social and economic well being and so on, of the people, and to adjust relationship between landlords and tenants and between employers and labour. Sir, that is not enough either as a Directive Principle or a Fundamental Right because we do maintain that the cultivator, the man who produces the foodgrains should be the owner of the land which he is tilling (Applause). This should be provided for in our Constitution. At least this should be the aim of this Government…

…Then there is another hiatus which should also be filled up namely, that local self-government should be promoted. The time is fast coming when a certain degree of decentralization with the energies of our people should be harnessed for the benefit of the nation. This Sir, in my opinion is of great importance, every nation today that is rising in stature has been able to infuse the people sufficiently to ensure either co-operation in nation-building. This can only be done if the people feel that they are part and parcel of the Government and of the nation. Their energies can only be harnessed if local self-government seeps down to the village and generally makes the Village Panchayat the backbone of our administrative economy. Sir, there can be no doubt that we have wonderful material. I maintain that there is hardly any country, that is so well equipped with human material, with persons who are capable of great sacrifices and great endeavours than, fortunately this country of Pakistan. I hope, Sir, that attempts will be made to bring them together and raise in them that patriotism for the country which can only come if they are made part of the administration.

… I am amazed to find, Sir, that openly and blatantly in the Constitution you have sanctified preventive detention and detention without trial. I am amazed that anybody at this stage in this country should have lent his support to it. You will find, Sir, that even in the case of an ordinary criminal he has to be placed before a court within 24 hours and the grounds of his detention have got to be supplied to him, but in the case of a person who is arrested and detained without trial, there is no clause whatsoever that he should be produced before a magistrate or that the grounds of his detention should be supplied to him. Apart from that, Sir, apart from the question whether grounds of detention should be supplied to him or not, what do we find? We find there that in every case the person whom you have detained has been detained for an ulterior purpose, for political reasons, not for any crime that he has committed; or if he has been detained for a crime, the crime is such that he can be tried for it under the ordinary criminal law.

…Sir, that if you want to establish the rule of law, this preventive detention must be done away with. With regard to what has been done to one of the Honourable Members the world must know, Sir, as it is a matter of the very greatest importance.

Honourable Deputy Speaker: The world will know about it at the proper time.

Mr H. S. Suharwardy : This is the proper time. A communication was addressed to the Speaker to the effect that the Honourable Member had been arrested and he was secluding himself from arrest, that he was keeping away and that he was arrested and thereafter that he was arrested for his participation in a prejudicial act. Possibly it was stated that for his participation in the strike of the Police… (interruptions).

…Now, Sir, there were other problems that came up. There was nothing in the Constitution regarding them, not even in the Directive Principles – regarding the principle of giving military training and establishing military bases for purposes of giving to the people of East Bengal encouragement to come forward and to take part in the defence of their country. There is nothing regarding foreign exchange. There is no provision to say that there shall be development side by side and in equal measure. There is nothing regarding Services and so on. What is the use of this Constitution? This Constitution has shelved all the problems and all that it has got is certain number of clauses taken from the Government of India Act, 1935 and wherever they have departed from it, woe to this country.

…Now, Sir, we come to the question of provincial autonomy. It is a matter on which you cannot come to a finality here. At the same time you have to consider that if the two wings – East and West do not come to an agreement, what should be done. I feel, as I have pointed out, that the ruling party of West Pakistan want to have and eat the cake.

They have taken their party in the constitution over and over again. They have pointed it out that this shall stand even if the number of members increases in the National parliament. I am sorry to state that all that goes with parity has been ignored by them. I maintain that the people of Bengal would not have accepted parity had it not been coupled with regional autonomy. This was the thing which was placed before them; One group in one part should not dominate over another group in another part: everything should be done by agreement and by a process of give and take and not by force. For that reason there should be equality. Obviously, West as a nation, as a group was pinched against the East as a nation or as a group. I am using the word "nation" in the loose sense and not in the sense of Pakistani nation. Therefore, in as much as they were separated on account of distance they must have regional autonomy. That was the basis of parity and the further basis of parity was that if Bengal was to speak, it should speak together and for that we must have join electorate.

…Now, I come to a very difficult and very dangerous point, dangerous for me. That is the provision that the Republic of Pakistan shall be called the Islamic Republic of Pakistan. Sir, it is to us on this side of House to say that we believe in Islam to the core, as we do, as we are all Muslims and we hope that we shall always behave as such and we hope that the combined intelligence of the representative of the people in various legislatures that will be established will be able to impress upon this country Islamic ideals, Islamic conduct, Islamic laws. I cannot conceive that any law passed by any legislature in a country where the Muslims are in such an overwhelming majority, the complexion, the flavour, the bias of the laws can be anything but Islamic, then why do you call it Islamic Republic, is it because you have not attained that position? Islamic Republic means that you have established and Islamic Republic, not that it is an objective. If it is an objective, then put it in your objectives. Put it in your fundamental rights; put it in your directive principles; but you are not an Islamic State, that is absolutely certain, and everyone who has spoken on this subject, whether he is an antagonist or the greatest protagonist of it, has said that this is not an Islamic state and we have got to go very far in order to make it an Islamic State. Then why try and delude people and the world at large? Why try to delude the Islamic world that you have succeeded in forming an Islamic Republic which you have not. You only have it that you are doing so just for the purpose of giving encouragement and for the purpose of placating that opinion which say that you must have an Islamic state. Nobody wants that it shall not be an Islamic state. But my objection today is not that; my objection today is that do not call it an Islamic State until you have made it an Islamic State….

…Let there be the constitution working according to the principles of Islam with all these various social and economic and political structure, that is so much the better. That is a desirable aim. Then we have to see who will decide what is Islam and what is not. In accordance with what principles you propose to decide it? Who are going to be the interpreters of it? Already these Ulemas are forthcoming and claiming that they shall be the last word about the constitution. The constitution shall be what they think to be Islamic constitution and people, whatever they say, must listen to them. Sir, you have provided in the constitution that groups of Ulemas should meet together and compile what the Quran and the Sunnah ordain. You are calling upon them to meet and place this before them. How to avoid the clash? I congratulate the Honourable Prime Minister in doing a wise thing, in making this House the final authority in the matter. I also congratulate him in not making these laws justifiable. There will be such tremendous confusion; there would have been if this was done and we would have started bringing about chaos in Pakistan, but I would like the Honourable Prime Minister to realize what ultimately will happen.

Here are these gentlemen held high up in their glory because they have formed an Islamic State. They know perfectly well that it is not Islamic; they know it that it is not so and they at the same time welcome it because it is a thing which cannot be got rid it. They know that it is not Islamic and they know that this gives them a certain recognition – a certain recognition in the Constitution. Sir, it is proposed that after a year, more or less, a certain committee will be set up which will consider these various laws and what should be done for the purpose of bringing our laws into conformity with the Quran and the Sunnah? Thereafter, the matter will come to the legislature and the final verdict will be that of the legislature. Do you think that is possible? Do you think that there will be smooth sailing and things can be done so easily? Suppose that the Ulemas come forward and give an interpretation of the Quran and the Sunnah which as we have seen Ulemas are not always giving in the right manner, suppose they do so and then, will any legislature thereafter dare to go against it? Will not those persons who have been put on the top be able to go round and say that there is the legislature which has turned down the injunctions of the Quran and the Sunnah as conveyed by such reputable persons as our Ulemas? Will not the lives of those legislatures who turn round and say that be worth a moment? You will get fanatics rising up for the purpose of attacking any of those persons who may come forward against it and what kind are we going to surrender ourselves to these gentlemen who give ‘fatwas’ in order to suit the occasion. Only the other day rose up and said that anybody who does not vote for the Muslim League becomes a Kafir – so, we all became Kafirs? Did we not hear them in the last general elections in East Bengal when these Ulemas, these Peers, these Molvis, these Mullahs stated that if you do not vote to the Muslim League, all your wives will be divorced.

I would not say any more but you kindly refer to that most valuable document, the Munir Report where the learned Judge has pointed out that there is no one amongst the Ulemas who could give a correct definition as to what is Islam and who is a Muslim and we really do not know where we stand…


Source: Documents and Speeches on the Constitution of Pakistan
By G. W. Choudhury (1967). Green Book House, Dacca (East Pakistan)


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