M. Shahidul Islam
It’s incontrovertible by now that the Jamaat-e-Islami (JI) is proving an Achilles Heel for the ruling Awami League (AL). Lately, its power to destabilize the nation has prompted Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina to invite Indian President Pronob Mukherjee to the country in the midst of a countrywide political unrest and unprecedented political violence.
Sources say the Indian President was brought to Dhaka to convince the Opposition Leader Khaleda Zia not to support the JI in its ongoing anti-government agitation which has shaken the very foundation of the government within, and, tarnished its human rights records without.
That mission has apparently failed, although, Bangladesh remains a second home for the incumbent Indian President due to his family ties and his inherent love for the people of Bangladesh. Bangladeshis also feel proud to have a Bengali babu in the highest political office of India.
A senior source within the BNP confirmed that the BNP leader cancelled her scheduled appointment with the visiting Indian President due to her concern that “any request from such a respectable person to divorce the JI from the mainstream nationalist platform is neither realistic, nor feasible.”
Besides, the BNP being supportive of JI’s two- day- strike, the opposition Leader could not afford to break the strike by carrying her convoy to Hotel Shonargaon where the Indian President stayed.
Hence the hurry-scurry to ban the JI without further delay, and, hence the initiation of so many cases against the BNP and the JI leaders across the country. Sources say a major clampdown on all leading stalwarts of the two parties is just days away.
If the series of clampdowns have brought the nation to where it’s today, and, if the war crime trial has had the power to unleash so much of anarchy and polarization in the country, banning of the JI could do much more, although, such an apprehension is unlikely to dissuade those willing to ban the Islamic outfit so long as the government is found to be desperate enough to see the JI shredded and vanished.
That is precisely why the Shahbag activists declared on Tuesday that they would not return home until the Jamat is banned; displaying a major shift from their original demand to get the war crimes accused lynched by pressurizing the International Crimes Tribunal (ICT) where the trials are being held.
Asked about the latest demand of the Shahbag activists, Foreign Minister Dipu Moni said on Tuesday that there has been a demand about banning Jamaat and “the government will definitely consider it.” Moni added, “The Election Commission (EC) too should consider the demand as what Jamaat has been doing is pure and simple terrorism.”
One of the oldest political organs in the subcontinent, the JI re-emerged in Bangladesh politics in 1978 following the introduction of a muti-party political system by then President Ziaur Rahman, which replaced the one-party BKSAL introduced by Sheikh Mujibur Rahman. Despite being a recognized political party, the JI did not participate in the general election of 18 February 1979, but took part in all other elections since.
The party’s vote bank has fluctuated over the decades; winning 10 seats in the 1986 election, 18 seats in 1991, 3 seats in 1996, 18 seats in 2001 and again 2 seats in the 2008 election. The outcome of all the elections indicates one thing for certain: That the JI won maximum seats when a pre-election alliance was formed with the BNP’s nationalist platform. That also explains why the two behave at times like a Siamese Twain.
Despite such a seemingly clean democratic political credential, the JI could not shield itself from the onslaughts of a mass movement following the end of Ershad’s dictatorial era in 1990. Demanding the trial of then JI leader Golam Azam (now in prison as one of the war crime accused), an aggrieved Jahanara Imam- who lost her children and husband during the war- challenged Azam’s Bangladeshi citizenship at the Supreme Court.
In absence of any credible evidence to prove Azam’s complicity in the commission of war crimes during the 1971 war, the court headed by Justice Habibur Rahman, declared Azam a citizen of Bangladesh and allowed him to have a Bangladesh passport.
The facts and fables
What then are the other allegations for which Jamaat can be ordered banned now? The first allegation is the alleged involvement of the JI’s senior leaders in war crimes during the 1971 war of liberation. The second allegation is of being involved in alleged terror activities. The third allegation is of indulging in politics using religion as a vehicle.
Among the allegations, there is a mix of facts and fables that must be sorted out first. Golam Azam, one of the prime accused in the war crime allegations, has long ago retired from politics. Although many other senior leaders of the party have been implicated, being tried, and, some have already been convicted by the ICT for committing war crimes, over 93% of the JI’s party cadre is composed of members who’re born after the 1971 war, or, were of minor ages during the war.
As the party claims to have 12 million registered members, banning their political activities may not conform to existing laws and regulations governing politics and political activities in Bangladesh. Moreover, the allegation of being involved in terror activities is a hypothesis that must be proven and tested beyond reasonable doubt; the supposed crimes being of criminal denominations.
Politically, the issue is as sensitive as a hyper allergy. Meanwhile, the joint convener of Sherpur city Jubo League, Tobibur Rahman Tipu, was caught by local people on Tuesday while destroying a Shahid Minar (martyr monument) along with 10-12 of his associates belonging to the ruling AL. Tipu is now in police custody, but there are many like him who had indulged in terror acts over the previous months only to blame the JI for the crimes.
Politics V. religion
With respect to the allegation of using religion as a political vehicle, the JI has made modifications to its charter lately, deleting certain clauses like the ‘Rule of Allah,’ and, had engaged in consultation with the Election Commission (EC) to discuss what needs to be done more.
Besides, even the Hindu-majority India has the Union Muslim League and the Jamaat-I-Islam India as established political parties while all Muslim countries have many such political outfits vying for power. Lately, Tunisia and Egypt had elected to power the parties which are the Arab variants of the Jamaat-I-Islami in ideology and indoctrination.
That notwithstanding, banning a political party can occur through an executive order only under the dictatorial dispensation of governance. Barring that, it must occur through an act of parliament in a democracy. It can also come about through an order from a competent court of law.
It’s, however, debatable whether the EC is empowered to ban any political party although it can disqualify a party from contesting an election on grounds of procedural shortfalls.
Precedents and consequences
On December 11, 2009, Turkey’s Constitutional Court banned the political organ of the Kurdish minority, the Democratic Society Party (DSP), creating huge outcries around the world due to the DSP being the only legally recognized pro-Kurdish party in the Turkish political system, representing about 20 percent of Turkish population.
In April 2012, Libya ordered banning of parties with religious, tribal or regional identities. Parties were also banned from receiving any foreign funding. Laws Nos. 29 and 30, relating to political party, were approved by the National Transitional Council (NTC) which has had only a temporary mandate to run the country until an election.
The most ideal war-crime-induced banning of a political party occurred in Germany where the Nazi Party was banned in 1923. There too, amidst allegation of bias, German Communist Party too had to be banned in 1933, throwing the entire nation into an orgy of frenzied, chauvinistic radicalization that had resulted in the revival of the most die-hard version of Nazism under Adolf Hitler.
Although the Nazi party remained banned in Germany since after the conclusion of the Second World War, German Communist Party had to be un-banned in 1968 on ground of inherent rights of citizens to espouse opinion and form associations. Our main concerns are about all of the above conundrums, as well as the timing. Don’t we already have enough on our plate?