OK, before discussing should the government ban Jamaat, first let’s ask, can they ban Jamaat? Yes PM Hasina definitely can. In 2013 Prime Minister Hasina, in her second term as prime Minister of Bangladesh can ban anything she wants to ban. She can ban walking on two legs, she can ban eating rice – anything she can do. She wants to ban something, she will have it prepared and home delivered for her by the legislative branch of the Government and have it certified legal and authentic by the judicial branch of the government. She did ban Youtube, months ago – nobody even talks about that anymore.
She bans blog sites that do not write good things about her, and she throws editors of the blog in jail. Nobody cares. She blocks hundreds to thousands of Facebook pages with thunderous cheers – she even charges people talking bad about her with sedition. Bangladesh’s collective conscience, law, judiciary, legislation – all maintain a silence of approval. She banned political parties before too. Freedom party was banned. Hijbut Tahrir was banned. Previous BNP government banned Jomiatul Muderresin Bangladesh ( JMB) and Jagrroto Muslim Jonotar Moncho ( JMJM). So yes, if Mrs. Hasina Wazed wants to ban Jamaat, she can do it before I finish typing this sentence.
So if Mrs Hasina wanted she could have banned Jamaat in 1996 when she became prime minister. So why she did not ban Jamaat then and why she is hesitating now? Bangladesh is a country where nearly 90% of the population are muslim and most of them are fairly religious. Although people of this country historically rejected any form of religious extremism, this country has a significant constituency for religious politics. And although religious politics itself may command 10% of total votes, this 10% can sway the nation’s political center of gravity very easily. For any sort of politics this ten percent is extremely important – as they can be source of great unrest and can unsettle any government. The events following Sayedee verdict is a proof. Of the 10%, Jamaat probably had half i.e 5%. Yet Jamaat is the only national and grassroots organized religious party in Bangladesh. The organizational and leadership situation of other religious political outfits in Bangladesh is pathetic at most. Most of them are either very local, based on the disciples of a Pir ( cleric) or based on one or the other Madrassa. Now as long as Jamaat remains committed to democratic process, conventional politics – Jamaat is the better option in many ways. First without Jamaat, a vacuum will be created in the religious political sector and those Pir or Madrassa based 1000 fractioned non-Jamaat Islamic parties will not be able to fill in the vacuum. A political vacuum and uncertainty about who will fill the vacuum is never a good thing in politics. Government banned Hijbut Tahrir to protect the private university students from evil Islamist influence. Well, before th end of the year the misguided Islamic students at private university starts chopping the head off the shoulders of bloggers who they perceive as atheist. Secondly, Jamaat’s 1971 role always keeps it in a defensive state. The anti independence branding that Jamaat put upon itself has gotten stronger and powerful over the last decade. And this branding on the only organized grassroots Islamist party in Bangladesh is a big blessing. Always on the defensive, always under attack as the Rajakars these group has not been able to launch any offensive. It is however not clear whether this instinctual defensive state will last beyond the hanging of the Jamaat leadership.
Awami League knows very well that it needs Jatiya Party to forge a good electoral alliance. But for JP to click, AL need to maintain the precarious religious center of gravity. If AL is perceived as the anti-Islam party, Al may not be be harmed as much as it’s electoral partner JP will be harmed. AL needs JP for several dozen seats. But with BNP in full command of conservative vote, JP will not be able to deliver to Awami League.
Last but not the least, Mosques are the most widespread community gathering spots dotting towns and villages of Bangladesh. It is very difficult to keep an watch on what happens in these mosques after Fazr before sunrise or between Asr and magrib. Mosques are the most convenient and safe place for organizing and recruit. Five bearded men sitting inside a mosque does not raise anybody’s eyebrows. Police or DGFI cannot put six million mosques under 24/7 surveillance. Jamaat has been ( or at least promised to be) ears of the BNP government in those mosques between Fazr and Sunrise or Asr and Magreb. During later years of BNP-Jamaat rule, Jamaat being in power and a complacent partner of Government, lost its organization edge. It’s cadres, rather than keeping an ear in the mosques, started lobbying in Dhaka for NGO licenses, jobs as Marriage registrar (Kazis) etc. And that vacuum saw the rise of JMB and JMJM which both BNP and Jamaat initially did not want to believe existed as they thought if something like happens they should have known.
Awami Leagues Jamaat decision will depend on their assessment on whether youth vote would negate the loss of conservative vote by the grand alliance. Also it does depend how much rural/conservative goodwill Awami League risk losing by banning Jamaat.
Source: Alal O Dulal