Bangladesh Jamaat-e-Islami, following a gazette by the Election Commission, has lost its registration to participate in the mainstream politics. However, given their political history and huge support, they are far from being erased from our political scenario. In this circumstance, Md Shabuddin Kabir writes about the state’s possible way of handling the situation
With the gazette publication by Election Commission on October 28, 2018, Jamaat-e Islami, one of the leading Islamist political parties, lost its legal license to participate in the mainstream politics and consequently became an off stage actor in the country’s chameleon political spectrum, a landmark event that has unfortunately become a matter of national security concern. While the pro-liberation parties are highly elated at the cancellation of registration, they must bear in mind that Jamaat is banned but the organisation per se is yet to be disbanded.
Jamaat-e Islami has legally been pushed off the ground and for this reason security agencies need to ponder over what would be the potential move of Jamaat while being in underground as our history suggests that ‘underground parties’ often resort to violent means in pursuit of their political aim. Reminiscently when few ultra-left political parties were outlawed by Bangabandhu soon after the independence, they, having gone in underground, launched a series of violent armed attacks from ransoming civilians to killing ruling party leaders and activists, to bombing law enforcers and even to looting police stations. Thus, underground ultra-left political parties continued to cause serious political havoc and let loose a reign of terror across the country for nearly three decades with a view to turning the country into a communist state. Law enforcement agencies of Bangladesh came down heavily on these extremist outfits and for nearly wiping them out although police has to fight off and on their remnants till today in the south-western part of the country.
The recently outlawed Jamaat-e-Islami remarkably resembles those banned ultra-leftist parties as each has had an ever biting ideology and resultantly an ever compelling political objective although they are quite different in nature from each other’s case. Jamaat’s ideology is political Islam and its aim is to turn the country into an Islamist state and what makes the problem worse in the case of Jamaat is that there are a larger number of people who still believe in Jamaat’s Ideology and share the same political goal, thanks to those military despots for their strategic political nourishment given to Jamaat for more than thirty years in which it has come of age. Jamaat-e Islami has a hideous political history of timely breeding obnoxious offshoots like Al-Badr and Al-Shams that unleashed a reign of terror and committed countless crimes against humanity during the liberation war, and now the same party having been outlawed, one cannot rule out that suchlike offshoots will not be in the offing. Moreover, Jamaat stands apart from other banned political parties in the sense that they have the ability to employ a large number of party activists within their pro-Islami sister concerns and thus can keep their activists actively engaged in party politics. Given the profit making far rooted strong economic base as proffered by Prof Abul Barkat and a large number of in-house party activists many of whom are well educated young zealots, it is highly unlikely that Jamaat-e Islami will die out eventually with the repeal of their party registration.
As the case has been made that Jamaat is able to survive the crisis, now the question that arises is how they are going to survive the catastrophe since they are officially non-existent as in the words of BNP leaders while answering the question whether Jamaat stands as a bar in forming national alliance ‘Jamaat is not a registered political party. So Jamaat does not exist as a party and therefore is not an issue here’. Moreover, we can easily presume that Jamaat cannot merge with BNP or even with other Islamist political parties as it has a well defined strong political ideology which is quite different from that of its allies. Nevertheless, Jammat’s main ally BNP is implicitly willingly to sever the ties or at least strategically trying to keep distance from it for the time being to make the greater national unity a reality and Jamaat has strikingly been complicit in this case so far. Furthermore, most of the other political parties have much earlier publicly repudiated Jamaat denouncing its devilish role during the liberation war. Hence, Jamaat, having been made an outcast and thereupon been sent into seclusion, can easily morph into different radical underground parties and resort to any violent means to ventilate their long pent-up outrage and to make their cause sustained. Moreover, it was found that many extremists were at first the supporters of Jamaat and later got frustrated and lost patience in the protractive conventional politics and consequently joined radical outfits to achieve their political objective. Since Jamaat has been outlawed, all those remnants of militant outfits might get fresh blood and new hope that now Jamaat has no other way but to tread the same jihadi path.
Now, given the potential trajectories of Jamaat-e Islami, law enforcement agencies have to be highly alert and be able to intercept any potential move before getting on ground. Police must be watchful of their movements and restrain them from hatching any anti-state conspiracy. All the leaders of Jamaat-e Islami both central and local, who are now at large, must be put under constant surveillance. Simultaneously, an appropriate counter strategy should be adopted to prevent young activists (members of Islami Chatra Shibir) from getting radicalised. However, police must be cautious enough to choose their course as such the cornered group is not provoked to respond through violent means. Given the political history of Jamaat-e Islami, we should not be too complacent until its total disbandment rather we need to be careful enough of its potential repercussion and must make sure that this time history cannot afford to repeat itself.
Md Shabuddin Kabir is a student of University of Birmingham.
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