Bangladesh is a country whose population is constituted mostly by Muslims. Almost 90 per cent of its population believes in Islam as their religion. As a result, there was always a scope for Islamic power to shape itself to ascend the state power in Bangladesh. Fortunately, that did not happen in independenst Bangladesh. Neither did it happen during the pre liberation period too. Emancipation of Islamic power was really not possible in this part of South Asia, for one chief reason: the largest Islamic party Jamaat-e-Islami’s (JeI) involvement into the crimes against humanity during the Liberation War of Bangladesh. Its anti-state stand caused JeI to lose its ground in Bangladesh.
In the politics for vote too, JeI gradually lost its popularity. Not JeI alone, most of the Islamic parties too could not draw people’s support in that sense. It is worth mentioning here that among all the 39 political parties registered with the Election Commission, there are 10 Islamic parties although their actual number is hard to count. According to different media reports, at least 80 Islamic parties are now active in Bangladesh. Apart from these there are also many least known or completely unknown parties whose political activism is hard to detect. But none of these parties could win people’s heart.
In post-1971 Bangladesh, JeI’s rehabilitation in the political arena of Bangladesh was ensured in 1979 by the then Ziaur Rahman government. JeI was legalised under the name ‘Islamic Democratic League’ and the party, together with larger Muslim League, won 20 seats in the general election of that year. During the autocratic regime of Hussein Muhammad Ershad, JeI got 10 seats in 1986. The largest success that Islamic parties have ever got in the history of Bangladesh was JeI’s singly winning 18 seats in 1991 election, even though Islamic parties, including JeI, never contributed worth mentioning in any movements launched with a view to bringing about a change in the state mechanism. In the 1990 movement for democracy, there was no official presence of JeI though the party could manage to taste the power by sending representatives to the Jatiya Sangsad. But its presence in the parliament gradually decreased in the subsequent national elections. And, now the party has lost its registration number with the Election Commission.
All these mean that JeI never did politics for the people of this country. They blindly supported Pakistani military crackdown on the unarmed Bangalees in the 1971 War of Liberation. East Pakistan JeI head Ghulam Azam coordinated the development and operation of paramilitary forces during the war, including Razakar, Al-shams and Al-badr for collaboration with the Pakistan Army. These units committed genocide and other war crimes at that time, most notorious of which was the systematic execution of Bengali pro-liberation intellectuals. As the war neared its end, a final effort to wipe off as many intellectuals as possible took place, to eliminate the future leaders of the new nation. On 14 December 1971, over 200 of East Pakistan’s intellectuals including professors, journalists, doctors, artists, engineers and writers were picked up from their homes in Dhaka by the Al-Badr militias. They were never found alive after that.
Even after independence, they went on promoting extremism among the people. They sponsored crimes and violence, campaigned to disturb communal harmony, and spread militancy in this peace loving country that has been founded on the very spirit of the liberation war. As a result, the party has lost validity to do politics for the people of this country.
Now comes the question of other Islamic parties among whom Qawmi parties based on fundamentalist Islamic policies are the largest. Be it Hefazat-e-Islam or Islami Oikya Jote, neither of the parties could win the heart of the common people for their leaning towards fundamentalism which is directly contradictory to the characteristics of the people of Bangladesh. Although Islami Oikya Jote participates in the national election on a regular basis, they could never win more than two constituencies at a time. All the other Islamic parties are name only parties with little popular support. They failed to draw public attention due to existing conflicts among all the parties. Instead of preaching the true lessons of Islam — that is peace and respect for each religion — they went on either teaching fundamentalism or developing a sense of communalism. That they almost all the time won only 4-5% of total votes signifies that people have largely refused their outlook and policies, and that the peaceful common people do not believe in their belief of ‘Khilafat’ (Caliphate) in Bangladesh.
All said, there is little likeliness of any hope in the near future for the Islamic parties in the country even though they are running to join different alliances to take a pie of state power. As they are still obscure over their political ideologies, their leaders and also that they failed to popularise those among the people who believe in peaceful coexistence and in a dispensation that will allow them to speak up in support of their different rights as a citizen, they are for sure not to find ground below their feet. Who has little or no respect for the fundamental principles of a state can never ensure their vibrant political presence in that state. That is what the case for the Islamic parties in Bangladesh.
Kamal Hossain is Assistant Editor, Bangladesh Post