Jamaat regroups by stealth
Contrary to the widespread perception that Jamaat-e-Islami has been on the wane for over the past 15 years, the Islamist party that actively opposed the birth of the nation is actually growing, according to intelligence and party documents.
In 2008, the number of the party's permanent members or Rukon was 23,863. That figure now stands at 73,046 -- a threefold rise, according to a police intelligence report.
The Islamist party also sees a threefold rise in the number of its activists, which has leapt to 6.39 lakh from 2.21 lakh during the same period, the report says.
Lately, Jamaat came into discussion again as it held a rally in the capital on Saturday after getting police permission. The party was given such permission for the first time in 10 years. Later, four ministers on Sunday tried to justify the government's decision.
About the permission, Agriculture Minister Abdur Razzak on Sunday said Jamaat has a support base and in light of this, the government gave the party permission to hold the rally.
The police intelligence report, which also contains Jamaat's strategy for the upcoming national election and funding, has recently been submitted to the home ministry.
It has been prepared based on information gathered from the party's top-secret documents, interrogation of top Jamaat leaders and interception of communication among party leaders.
The Daily Star has a copy of the report alongside party documents.
The documents show a nearly fivefold rise in the party's women Rukon, and a fourfold rise in women activists. Similarly, the number of associate members has now grown to 2.29 crore from 1.03 crore in 2008.
Asked about the party's recent activities, Jamaat Nayeb-e-Ameer (deputy chief) Abdullah Md Taher told The Daily Star that they were not allowed to carry out political activities for over a decade.
"But we have continued our 'dawati' (invitational) activities secretly and will continue to do so," he said.
About the spike in the number of its members, especially among the women, he said it is the result of their dawati activities. "Still, the number of men is much higher than that of women, but the increase in the number of women members is higher."
Jamaat has faced myriad challenges since December 2008. Many of its leaders were also arrested in 2013-2015 when the BNP-Jamaat alliance staged a fierce anti-government movement.
However, it faced an existential crisis when most of its top brass were tried on war crimes charges at the International War Crimes Tribunal and executed.
Following the war crimes trial, five of its top leaders were hanged while three died in custody. Another two, who were sentenced to different jail terms, are serving their time at present.
According to Jamaat's database, around 1,850 Jamaat leaders are in jail as of March 31, while 15 Jamaat men were alleged victims of enforced disappearance. Around 294 Jamaat activists were killed in the last 12 years, the party claimed.
Established by the controversial Islamist scholar Abul Ala Moududi in 1941, Jamaat had been banned twice, in 1959 and 1964 in Pakistan, for its communal role.
During the Liberation War, the party had directly taken a stance against the country's independence and carried out indiscriminate massacre of pro-Liberation forces and activists supporting the cause of independence.
The Al-Badr Bahini, an auxiliary force of the Pakistan army in 1971, played a key role in the killing of martyred intellectuals. Al-Badr consisted mainly of activists of Islami Chhatra Sangha, Jamaat's student wing during the Liberation War.
In its verdict against former Jamaat ameer Ghulam Azam, the International Crimes Tribunal-1 observed, "… Jamaat-e-Islami, as a political party under the leadership of accused Prof Ghulam Azam, intentionally functioned as a criminal organisation especially during the War of Liberation of Bangladesh in 1971."
The party was banned again after independence but was allowed back in politics during the rule of late president Ziaur Rahman. Justice seekers, and war crimes victims and their family members have long been demanding the trial of Jamaat as a party for its role in 1971.
According to Jamaat sources, the party never regretted or offered apology for its role in 1971. The issue of offering apology was discussed within the party in 2017, but no decision was made in this regard.
Jamaat's assistant secretary general Barrister Abdur Razzaq resigned from the party in 2019, citing the party's failure to apologise for its role in the Liberation War and bring reforms to its constitution.
The BNP allied with Jamaat in 1999 and formed a four-party alliance ahead of the 2001 national election. Later, the alliance formed government after a landslide victory in the election and Jamaat's former Ameer and secretary general were made ministers in the Khaleda Zia-led government.
Using the state power, Jamaat then strengthened its organisational activities.
As the 2013-15 movement against the AL government was a failure and drew flak at home and abroad for its violent nature, the BNP and Jamaat had been very strategic in their relations.
However, the parties bridged the gap and got closer recently and agreed to wage a simultaneous movement to oust the government and materialise a polls-time caretaker administration.
In 2013, Jamaat's registration as a political party was declared illegal by the High Court. Acting on the verdict, the Election Commission cancelled Jamaat's registration in October 2018.
In last October, Bangladesh Development Party (BDP), which many believe is Jamaat-e-Islami in disguise, applied for registration with the EC.
According to some media reports, top leaders of BDP were involved with Jamaat. The general secretary of the party is a former leader of Islami Chhatra Shibir, the student wing of Jamaat.
Earlier this month, Amar Bangladesh Party, founded by some former leaders of Jamaat, also applied for registration as a political party.
Both the BDP and Amar Bangladesh, however, were denied registration.
Despite all the hurdles, the police intelligence report shows how the party has silently recovered over the past 15 years.
The party has adopted a dual policy regarding the upcoming national election, slated to be held towards the end of this year.
It has already prepared a primary list of candidates for all 300 constituencies and even potential ministers for 10 ministries. It will make the final decision considering the political situation, according to the report.
While selecting the candidates, Jamaat has preferred party men who are in various professions -- businessmen, doctors, engineers, police and former bureaucrats.
People who are popular and have considerable influence in their areas have been selected.
The organisation has also started collecting election funds from its members. It wrote to all its units across the country, asking party members to pay extra for raising an election fund.
The organisation has adopted a unique strategy to increase voters in constituencies where it has a strong base. It has also mobilised its voters in towns.
Pro-Jamaat voters of the constituencies where the possibility of its win is slim will be migrated to its strongholds.
Jamaat is also trying to spread its wings abroad for broadening its organisational base, collecting new members and raising funds.
According to the police document, Jamaat sent letters last year to different Muslim countries and Islamic organisations abroad, describing its current political situation in the country and branding the incumbent government "anti-Islam".
The organisation wrote to the chairman of Muslim Brotherhood on December 8, the Malaysian prime minister on November 24, the chairman of The Welfare Party of Turkey on November 6, the president of The Felicity Party of Turkey on October 24, the Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan on October 17 and the Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman on September 30.
According to the document, as the organisation is running its activities under the banners of different organisations, and as it has no specific office now, Jamaat is conducting its political and organisational activities from rented houses.
It is also holding meetings, spreading its ideology and conducting its organisational activities through various types of religious gatherings, like Waz Mahfils, across the country.
Islami Chhatra Shibir, the student wing of Jamaat, mainly recruits activists and supporters for the organisation, persuading them to build an ideal and just Islamic society.