In the intriguing landscape of South Asian politics, where variables are as diverse as the region itself, the recent resurgence of Jamaat-e-Islami in Bangladesh has claimed the front page, creating a pronounced ripple in an already complex pool of political equations. This surprising return of the party to the political scene, following almost a decade of political banishment, has sparked a flurry of questions and speculation. So, what are the reasons behind this surprising resurgence, and what implications does it have for Bangladesh’s future?
The ball began rolling when Jamaat-e-Islami, one of the largest fundamentalist parties in Bangladesh, was recently granted official permission to hold a public meeting in Dhaka. This move, starkly contrasting the government’s previous stance, was succinctly described as a “political decision” by the Minister of Agriculture, Abdur Razzak, triggering speculation about the motives behind it.
This development is even more intriguing when viewed against the backdrop of Jamaat’s recent history. Post-2006, the party faced numerous hurdles. Its political capital took a significant hit during a two-year state of emergency that saw its principal ally, the BNP, suffer substantial losses. The Awami League came to power in a landslide victory in 2008, initiating war crimes trials that led to the controversial execution of Jamaat’s top leaders. The subsequent period saw many of its leaders arrested, especially between 2013 and 2015, when the BNP-Jamaat alliance launched a fierce campaign to obstruct the elections. It’s noteworthy that Jamaat was barred from holding rallies since 2013, and any attempts at public demonstrations were swiftly thwarted.
This drastic change in the government’s stance has set the rumour mills churning. One widespread belief is that Jamaat had reached an “understanding” with the government, paving the way for the rally. However, the Awami League General Secretary, Obaidul Quader, dismissed these claims and instead blamed the BNP for using Jamaat to carry out arson attacks.
Jamaat’s notorious history of active engagement against Bangladesh’s liberation forces in 1971 is widely known. Yet, we may wonder why the government has suddenly softened its stance towards the party? Why has Jamaat not been banned as a political party, which the Awami League promised to do? Jamaat, as a political party, has yet to ask for forgiveness for their role against the country’s liberation war in 1971. While the current Jamaat leadership publicly condemns the role of their predecessors during the 1971 war, they claim that the new leadership, representing the post-1971 war generation, is committed to the values and principles of the liberation and sovereignty of Bangladesh. They further state that they are prepared to do everything possible, peacefully, to protect the sovereignty of Bangladesh, a nation they claim to love as part of their faith and their party’s practice.
Historical alliances may offer some insight. The Awami League joined forces with Jamaat in 1986, and again in 1995-96 for elections and movements against the BNP government. Is this resurgence a sign of the revival of this once powerful alliance? The BNP’s decision to dissolve its alliance with Jamaat and recent reports of talks between the two parties add further intrigue.
Political commentators suggest that the government could be attempting to make the upcoming elections seem inclusive and participatory by bringing Jamaat into the fold under a different name, such as the Bangladesh Democratic Party, especially if the BNP decides to boycott the polls.
Adding another twist to the plot, recent changes in US visa policy seem to favour Jamaat. Could the Awami League be capitalising on this to show that it is not obstructing any of its political opponents?
Top Jamaat leaders publicly deny any backdoor compromise or alliance with the Awami League, questioning instead why their right to peaceful assembly and freedom of expression was curbed for years. They claim that it’s the growing public opinion that has forced the government to give them permission for the rally, and recent changes in the US visa policy might have partially contributed to the government granting permission for public gatherings. The Jamaat leaders argue that their party has been suppressed for years, their leaders have been subjected to fabricated charges and torture, and continue to face judicial harassment.
In the past, I predicted that Jamaat would play a vital and crucial role in the politics of Bangladesh. I reiterate that the next government in Bangladesh will be largely influenced by Islamic principles and values, no matter who comes into power. Jamaat, as the largest political party in Bangladesh, will play a key role both directly and indirectly in defining politics, policies, and who comes to power and who does not. The sudden approval for Jamaat’s public demonstration might also indicate the party’s desperation to reaffirm its presence and relevance in electoral politics. Yet, it’s also important to note that in Jamaat’s absence, the Bangladesh Islami Andolon seems to have encroached upon its vote bank, although the ideologies of the two parties are distinct.
This return of Jamaat has far-reaching implications for the political dynamics of the country. If the BNP and other parties decide not to participate in the upcoming polls, it could raise questions about the legitimacy of the elections and provoke scepticism about the motives behind Jamaat’s reemergence.
As observers of this complex political narrative, we must strive for objectivity, free of preconceived notions. While it is tempting to dismiss these events as conjecture, the history of Jamaat’s closeness with the ruling party and their savvy political manoeuvring suggests otherwise.
Jamaat-e-Islami’s unexpected return to the political stage of Bangladesh is not just a political spectacle; it’s a compelling subplot in the grand narrative of South Asian politics. It offers valuable insights into the ever-evolving dynamics of political alliances, the fine line between pragmatism and principles, and the profound impact these shifts can have on the socio-political fabric of the region.
Unfolding before us is a real-life political drama that invites us to engage, probe, and contemplate. It beckons us to delve deeper into the labyrinth of political narratives and understand the undercurrents that shape them. In doing so, we contribute to a more nuanced discourse, fostering a deeper understanding of the dynamics that shape our world.