Delwar Hossain Sayedee the man most known in Bangladesh as an Islamic preacher doubling as a politician has been sentenced to death for crimes committed in 1971. The crowds gathered in the streets and avenues and the shouts of joys and relief are in many ways the reflection of a nation denied of many justices and not just relating to war crimes. Sayedee is in fact, not a person but the symbol of a war criminal who leads a life that is protected by the impunity of politics in Bangladesh.
Most people believe that this sentence would not have been possible without Shahbagh, the iconic people’s movement which demanded the highest penalty for war crimes. Today, the supreme judicial authority has passed from the absolute control of the judiciary to be shared with the activists of the street. It is indeed a momentous and significant moment.
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Sayedee is now expected to be hanged soon and given the street mood, the appeal is really a formality. No judge today can go against the crowd and the authorities know that as well. It’s expected that the government will use the full opportunity given by the Shahbagh Movement to take its political agenda as far as possible. For the moment, the euphoria is the king and the joy of having forced the government to listen to its demand holds sway over everything.
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Three political forces are going to be most affected and obviously the Jamaat-e-Islami is the most at bay. Given the trend it had once, seemed that the AL was not that keen to ban it but now it is out of their hands. The verdict from Shahbagh is clear and the government faces much less problem by arguing that it has simply bowed to popular demand. A party which had flourished although that party had opposed the birth of Bangladesh was always a severe contradiction that in one way or another is resolved. Left to the politicians, nothing happened and ultimately it did in a way no one had imagined. It was not just a triumph of Shahbagh but formalisation of the politician’s failure. Banning Jamaat-e-Islami was not on the AL menu but it’s going to do it for its own survival now.
But what may the Jamaat-e-Islami do?
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Jamaat may have few options if banned or its leaders are hanged to go for militancy. Bangladesh has luckily been spared of the kind of ‘Islamic violence’ that Pakistan and other ME countries have seen. JI is not without support – about 5% of the voters – and many are militants, so in case of a ban they might up the violence ante. Given the general level of competence of the police and the other law and order forces, which even by best account is poor and sometimes outright comical, there is anxiety that they may not be able to cope effectively. Bangladesh has also not seen the scale of violence many Muslim countries have seen and how well the state and society will deal with it remains to be seen. A new set of uncertainties have now opened up.
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The BNP is already looking ragged and knowing that a ban is coming of its main ally, can’t be smiling. Although it will get the Jamaat-e-Islami votes if the party is banned, and an election is held, its capacity to mobilise is considerably diminished. It has tried to go front foot but the playing space is clearly limited in today’s politics for a party which is the closest ally of the most hated. The BNP is now in a corner.
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The AL is at a great advantage because the opponents are down. As the media focuses on the trial and hanging of war criminals, just about everyone has forgotten the governance disasters like the Padma Bridge and others. So the AL will certainly make as much political hay as possible as long as the sun shines from Shahbagh. However, this kind of hyper enthusiasm may not last and some of the issues may return but right now it’s walking without fetters as traditional political issues are forgotten for the moment.
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But it would be premature to celebrate an all round victory because ‘religion’ has returned as an issue no matter who is responsible. Nothing is more divisive than this issue and the fact that the government has sent an SMS saying that no one should insult Islam or the Prophet means the Government understands how serious the matter is. The BNP leader Sadek Hossain Khoka said in a public meeting that he was surprised how an ‘atheist’ like the slain blogger Rajib could survive for so long. This is the language of desperation and that seems to be where the battles will be fought, in the religious space. What that will mean is anyone’s guess.
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So for the moment, a hanging sentence as the crowd wanted, a threat of instability, an acutely unwell judicial system, crowd power at its highest and a political future that can’t be guessed are all part of the scene as Sayedee’s sentence causes joy to many.
Afsan Chowdhury is a journalist, activist and writer.
Source: bdnews24 opnion