Jamaat-e-Islami trying to return in election game

Dhaka: The registration deadline for new parties applying to participate in the polls was 30 October 2022. So far, about two dozen new parties have applied to the Election Commission.

What is troubling is that pro-Pakistan radical Islamist parties are also vying to participate in the electoral process. The proscribed Bangladesh Jamaat-e-Islami (BD JeI) is trying to get registered under a different name. The JeI is infamous for opposing the independence of Bangladesh and supporting the Pakistan Army in the Liberation War of 1971. Bangladesh High Court declared the registration of Jamaat-e-Islami illegal in 2013 and the EC cancelled its registration in 2018 as its charter was not consistent with the Constitution and the spirit of the Liberation War. But that status may change as the JeI is trying to get registered under the banner of Bangladesh Development Party (BDP) which has applied for registration with the Election Commission (EC). Election Commissioner Md Alamgir has said that Bangladesh Jamaat-e Islami can get registration under a different name if they fulfil all the conditions – “If now any new political party applies for registration and their charter is consistent with our Constitution and the spirit of the Liberation War, there is no war criminal among them and fulfils all other conditions, you can’t brand someone as a Jamaat man.”

Bangladesh Development Party (BDP) comprises politicians who were once in leadership positions of the banned Jamaat-e-Islami. Md Kazi Nizamul Haque, the party’s general secretary, is currently a leader of Jamaat’s Dhaka South unit. He is also a former leader of Islami Chhatra Shibir (ICS). Party chairman Anwarul Islam is the Amir (Chief) of Jamaat’s Demra Thana (Police Station) unit, according to sources. The BDP has many former leaders and activists of Jamaat and ICS. The presence of activists from Islami Chhatra Shibir in the party gives a reason for apprehension of widespread anarchy as Shibir cadres are notorious for carrying out street violence.

This is not the first time that the JeI has tried to re-enter the political process by means of a name change. In 2020, the BD JeI had launched a new, separate party named Amar Bangladesh Party (ABP), over an online media briefing from Dhaka. In a complete U-turn, party’s general secretary Mujibur Rahman Manju, who is the former president of the central committee of the ICS, informed that Liberation War in 1971 and the victory achieved is one of the significant platforms of the national consensus and the party pledged to set that platform on a solid base. Former Senior Assistant General Secretary of BD JeI, lawyer Abdur Razzaq, was another prominent member.

Meanwhile, BNP leaders have already rejected the Election Commission’s plea to join the parliamentary polls in 2023 and have called for ouster of the Hasina government. One of them has even threatened “a repeat of 1975”, alluding to the violent coup that killed 16 members of Hasina’s family, including her father, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman and small children. As the elections draw closer, the BNP with its ultra Islamist ally Jamaat, has planned to launch a campaign of street violence similar to that during 2013-16- a period which saw grisly fire bombings on public vehicles and a wave of attacks against minorities and law enforcers to foil war crimes trials. “They want to unleash massive street violence like before 2014 polls which they boycotted so that the government is forced to step down. They plan a complete breakdown of law and order to weaken the government’s grip,” said a senior intelligence official. Massive use of petrol bombs and Molotov cocktails targeting public transport has been the signature tactics of the BNP-Jamaat rioters. BNPs acting chief Tarique Rahman, who is leading a fugitive life in London due to conviction in Bangladesh, in a speech addressing party leaders recently, reiterated calls for violence to grab power, echoing the tones of Jamaat leaders.

The spectre of civil unrest and Islamic radicalisation are issues that cannot be ignored. Jamaat’s role in the liberation war and the inhumane torture of freedom fighters by its cadres in alliance with the Pakistani army that time is well known. Besides, how easy will it be for the BNP leaders to overcome the fundamentalist mindset of which they have been accustomed due to their standing association with Jamaat? BD JeI’s indoctrination resulting in its cadres to develop an exclusionist band of mind, is contradictory to the hidden ideal put forward by the new party in its objective.

Additionally, questions must be raised about the funding of the party and political analysts feel it might be an attempt by some external factors to influence Bangladesh’s politics. Given Jamaat’s closeness to Islamabad (Jamaat never supported an independent Bengali nation and always hobnobbed with Pakistan Army as Razakars by identifying Liberation fighters and minority Hindus to Pakistan Army), many suspect involvement of Pakistan in helping the Jamaat, BNP and Shibir cadres to re-enter the mainstream politics by changing the name and coming under a new umbrella – the BDP. Keeping this in mind, BDP’s participation in the electoral process and general elections of December 2023 under the guise of a new party must be prevented.