Gonojagoron Mancha representatives have met the Speaker twice within a span of less than two months. They met Speaker Abdul Hamid on February 10 and placed their six-point demands including the one for imposing a ban on Jamaat-e-Islami and other on religion based political parties.
When they went to the parliament again on March 31, Speaker Abdul Hamid was not there as he is serving as the acting President. Instead, they met acting Speaker Shawkat Ali and gave him a memorandum with signatures of over 10 million people in support of their six-point demand.
On both occasions they requested Hamid and Shawkat to take the necessary measures to implement their demands. But by that time a crucial demand of Gonojagoron Mancha has changed– imposing a ban Jamaat and all political parties based on religion now targets only Jamaat.
The day they placed their demands to Speaker Abdul Hamid, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina in parliament also announced that her government and ruling Awami League wholeheartedly supported the demands.
Referring to the oath taken by Shahbagh protesters at the February 8 grand rally which was reflected in their six point demands, Hasina said, “I heard their oath. Every word of their oath is justified. We will do whatever needs to be done to implement their oath. It’s our commitment.”
What did the government do in the last two months to ban Jamaat? The government brought an amendment to the International Crimes (Tribunal) Act, 1973 empowering the tribunal to hold trial of organisations that committed crimes against humanity during the Liberation War. This provision was made on February 17 through passing a bill by the parliament. Since then there is no progress in holding trial of Jamaat. The investigation agency formed by the government to investigate crimes committed during the Liberation War is yet to receive any directive from the government to begin the process of putting Jamaat in the dock. So, the Gonojagoron Mancha’s deadline for banning Jamaat by March 26 was not met.
It is now clear that the AL-led government has taken huge political mileage from the youths’ movement. Still the party wants to use the youths’ movement in its favour. The government’s strategy has left leaders of Shahbag frustrated and aggrieved. At a rally on March 26, Imran H Sarker accused the government of fishing in troubled waters. Annoyed by the government’s political strategy, some young people under the banner of Shaheed Rumi Squad have gone on a hunger strike demanding the ban on Jamaat.
What will the government do now? Will Jamaat-e-Islami be finally banned by the current AL-led government? What does history say? Didn’t the political parties including the AL use Jamaat in its power-politics?
Jamaat-e-Islami Hind– the parent organisation of Jamaat– was established in 1941 in India. Its founder was Maulana Abul Ala Moududi, who opposed the independence of India and the creation of Pakistan. And Jamaat in 1971 opposed the independence of Bangladesh.
Jamaat faced ban once in undivided Pakistan by military ruler Ayub Khan and once in independent Bangladesh. When it was banned by military ruler Ayub Khan, political parties including Awami League strongly opposed the ban, terming it an attack on political freedom.
In Independent Bangladesh, Jamaat was constitutionally banned for its anti-liberation role. But the bloody political changeover following the assassination of the then President Sheikh Mujibur Rahman on August 15, 1975 had opened the window for Jamaat to resume its political activities. During the martial law regime that began from August 15, 1975, Jamaat men got the chance to get united in independent Bangladesh. Under an umbrella organisation called Islamic Democratic League, Jamaat, Nezam-e- Islam, Khelafat-i-Rabbani and other Islamic parties were united in 1977, taking advantage of Political Parties’ Regulations Order, 1976. Maulana Abdur Rahim, who was the first ameer of Jamaat in the then East Pakistan, was the brain behind the unity. The Islamic Democratic League even formed an electoral alliance with Bangladesh Muslim League and contested the 1979 parliamentary polls in which they won 19 seats and 10 percent votes. By that time Ghulam Azam returned to Bangladesh with a Pakistani passport and a three – month visa to see his ailing mother. In May 1979, under the guidance of Ghulam Azam, the Jamaat formally resumed its activities and Abbas Ali Khan was made its acting ameer. The party held its first public meeting on February 10, 1980.
The movements against military dictator HM Ershad, who grabbed power on March 24, 1982, opened a window of opportunity for Jamaat to consolidate its muscle by launching street agitations against the dictator along with other political parties. At that time, neither the AL nor the BNP had raised voice against Jamaat. Rather, their common enemy was Ershad.
Again, Jamaat simultaneously waged street agitation along with AL against BNP-led government in between 1994 to 1996. AL leaders are now claiming since then that it was a political strategy to oust the BNP-led government. It is true that it was the AL’s political strategy, which was applied by the BNP to wage a movement against AL-led government of Sheikh Hasina in 1996-2001. At that time, BNP went a bit further, and formed an electoral alliance with Jamaat. It worked like magic. Jamaat, the anti-liberation force, shared power in 2001 with the BNP. Jamaat’s top leaders, Matiur Rahman Nizami and Ali Ahsan Mohammad Mojahid, who are now facing trial on charges of war crimes, were made ministers.
And now, the BNP has waged a one-point movement to oust Hasina’s government. The BNP is largely depending on the strength of Jamaat to make its movement successful. The BNP’s strategy provided the Jamaat a very strong shield from a possible attack by the government. The BNP has started to speak for Jamaat. The overall situation is very critical and volatile. The government has already lost control over the situation and may not be able to take any action against Jamaat. So, the demand for banning Jamaat needs to wait for an indefinite period.
The writer is Senior Reporter, The Daily Star.