As the President Professor Dr. Iajuddin Ahmed appointed himself the head of the Non-party Caretaker Government, many cried foul. No intelligent interpretation of our constitution would put the President at the head of the caretaker government (CG) without exhausting a bevy of other appropriate alternatives. However convoluted his reasoning may have been, AL showed restraint and gave him the benefit of the doubt. The nation gave their President a chance to prove himself to be neutral and rise over the petty politics that had gripped the nation. We reasoned that mild mannered educationist will appoint an able body of advisers and they, like their predecessors before, would turn out to be impartial and more so, effective.
The Chief of CG (CCG), as the constitution allows him appointed 10 respected members of the society as advisors. With the exception of a few, the “wow” factor it seemed was missing from the line up. It was widely reported that the advisors were drawn up from a list submitted by the major parties. While the question was raised, about if they met the Constitutional provision of being “non-party”; the society, and to its credit the main political groups accepted the choice and hoped that this will end most of the controversy in this regard. Unfortunately when we thought it could not get any worse, it did! A few questioned the composition itself. Why did the business community not have a representative? The citizenship of a certain advisor was questioned. And then it got a whole lot more serious.
Common citizens quickly complained that the Advisors did not show the energy levels expected from them. Of course they did not have time to do the homework required for the job and therefore took some time to find their “sea legs”. But it seemed that they were kept in the dark about many of the decisions that the constitution entrusted to them to take. The President, it was obvious, was politically too inexperienced to differentiate his role as head of the nation to that of his duty as the CCG. Worse, accusation levelled against the Bangabhaban was that the President’s politically appointed minders were calling the shots. They were present at advisory council meetings and refused to heed opposition demands to step aside. Any person even slightly knowledgeable of the workings of the government could easily point out that there was backroom politicking happening in scales that has not seen in our young democracy in many years.
The difference between the CCG and rest of his advisors was soon out in the open. Many believe that the advisory council painted themselves into a corner when they openly said that the Chief Election Commissioner (CEC) had to go. While it bought them time from the AL, political manoeuvring by the President’s secretaries ensured that this could not be translated into actionable deeds. And then out of the blue came the most damning action of all. The Home Secretary without the knowledge of the CG (it is not known if the CCG was aware of this move) attempted to call in the Army. How could such a bold and potentially course altering decision be taken without consulting the CG? More so when they had met that very same day? More than a few questions are raised. Did the President / CCG know? Did he comprehend the gravity of the action? Was there someone else calling the shots? And the most worrisome of the questions, was the constitution itself violated?
While I cannot answer the first few of these questions as I am not privy to what goes on in the great mind of the President, I believe the last is easy to dissect. The Article 58B  states “The executive power of the Republic shall, during the period mentioned in clause , be exercised, subject to the provisions of article 58D , in accordance with this Constitution, by or on the authority of the Chief Adviser and shall be exercised by him in accordance with the advice of the Non Party Care-taker Government.” Basically this clause states that the executive power (i.e. the responsibility of day to day functioning of government) rests with the Chief Adviser (as opposed to the President) and can only be done with the agreement of the remaining of the Advisors. “…in accordance with the advice of the Non Party Care-taker Government.” These words are very important. “Advice” in this case is not same to the one my wife takes when she asks which sari she should wear. This “advice” is not open to acceptance or rejection. This “advice” is the legal wording that says, “Must do”.
Now I know, some might be thinking “hey, the CCG is the same as the PM in a normal time. So isn’t the PM’s wish supreme? Could she not have disagreed with rest of her cabinet on a topic and still come out on top?” Well that logic, though enticing, breaks down in two counts. In a Parliamentary system the PM is Primus Inter Pares – Latin for First Amongst Equals. That means the PM is one of the many ministers of the cabinet, who while having the overall responsibility of the co-ordination of the cabinet does not supersede remaining of the members of that body. It is another matter that in our fragile democracy PM acts as the defacto President of yesteryear with complete authority.
More importantly one needs to look at the clause giving executive power to the PM during normal time of functioning. Article 55 states “The executive power of the Republic shall, in accordance with this Constitution, be exercised by or on the authority of the Prime Minister.” Full Stop! None of the “advice” of the council of minister business. She has, according to our constitution, the last word on what is correct for her Government to take. Of course she has to get it ratified by the Parliament but she and she alone bears the ultimate responsibility of any government decision or action. And if her ministers do not like it, she has the liberty of firing them.
That is not the case with the advisors. The President or the CCG has no authority to remove them (except in extra-ordinary circumstances). And while the CCG is the person who chooses the body of advisors, once they take the oath, their roles are equal.
So here we stand, the CCG has to work in accordance to the collective (or at least majority) wisdom of the Advisory council of which he is another member. This body is entrusted by the Constitution and by the nation to carry out the responsibilities of government. The onus is now on the Non-party Caretaker Government to take responsibility for their action. As Dr. Yunus said, it is time to be strong and hold steady. The framers of our constitution (and of its amendments) did not give complete executive power to the unelected CCG but to the body of eminent members of the society. It is now upto them to show leadership. It is upto them take the necessary steps required to faithfully execute the decisions that will lay course to our prosperous future. They cannot hide behind the excuse of powerful bureaucracy or Bangabhaban bullies. If someone puts up a roadblock or if someone believes he is above the Constitution, it is within the power of the CG to take that person to task. There is no need to be afraid. Hold steady, and no one can move you from the path of righteousness. It reminds me of the Bangla saying “Doshay milay kori kaaj, hari jitee nahi laaj”. (A rough English equivalent being “United we stand…”)