Bangladesh Politics: What Happened to the Opposition Movement?

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The Jamaat-e-Islam gathering in Dhaka in July 2023.

by R Chowdhury   19 August 2023

Month of August. The Mourning Month for the ruling class in Bangladesh. The opposition also seems to be observing the occasion with silence. Not sure if it is in solidarity with the fascists, or they ran out of steam. The people who looked forward to the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP), the largest of them, are left bewildered. They wondered if their suffering for the past 15 years and the sacrifice in the last year or so, came to naught?

(Two score and eight years ago, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, the patriarch of the Awami League and father of Sheikh Hasina, died in a military coup. They call him Bangabandhu and honor him as the Father of the Nation, but not many outside their shrinking circle agree with those titles. Mujib was once very popular but became a hated leader in independent Bangladesh. He ran an oppressive dictatorship that saw 30,000 patriots killed, 62, 000 rotting in jails and 1.5 million victims in a man-made famine caused by widespread corruption. Finally, he imposed a one-party absolute dictatorship, and the Bangladesh dreamt by the people and millions of fighters in 1971–dead and alive–has been killed!). 

In such a political lull time, particularly in the BNP, rumor factories become alive with stories, right or wrong. They range from crises in the leadership to  Indian RAW (Research and Analysis Wing, its external Intelligence agency) interference to mother-son conflicts in the Zia family to much talked about seat-sharing deals with the fascists. The public are pushed to dismay and despair.

Some analysts try to defend BNP with what it is doing. But to me, there is no point in trying to defend the indefensible. That the BNP has suddenly become inactive, docile and indecisive is a fact, leaving the people mystified, if not totally disoriented. When the whole democratic world has been trying their best to fix the multifaceted political problems of the nation, the BNP seems to be waiting in the fence to receive the Command Baton on a platter, or sitting in their comfort zones for the Golden Apple to fall on its lap. There is no excuse for this apathy towards more active and aggressive movement against the fascists at a time when the democratic West is all out to lend a helping hand.

Apart from what the United States, the United Kingdom, the United States and others are doing, the rights organizations are seriously working to penalize the Hasina regime for its gross human right and democratic violations over the past 15 years of its illegal rule (Illegal because it grabbed power through massive election irregularities and voter frauds). Following are the two renowned rights groups engaged in gathering information and facts about Hasina regimes wrongdoings. The first one will submit the case to the International Criminal Courts (ICC) in The Hague for trial, and the other will submit to the US Congress recommending urgent remedial actions.

  1.  Guernica 37 Launches Initiative for Justice and Accountability in Bangladesh
  2. https://humanrightscommission.house.gov/events/hearings/human-rights-bangladesh-update?fbclid=IwAR0Wd4SV8OxsU1mfLZ9MXr0TvhMcfV6ixSW63g3FHrsoBpKE-eWVM13loA

And, the BNP should not waste time and energy on Begum Khaleda Zia, the ailing and long inactive Chairperson. The party could not do anything when Sheikh Hasina, Khaleda’s nemesis, sent their leader to a 17-year imprisonment on flimsy and unfounded grounds. Nor could they send her abroad for proper treatment, even moving heaven and earth for years. BNP must acknowledge that Khaleda is Hasina’s trump card which she would not dispossess under any circumstances. As such, all these efforts are futile and wasteful.  By making them a public show, the party ends up being humiliated and ridiculed. BNP should stop doing anything publicly for Khaleda, unless and until she is able to be active and can come out in the open herself.

Question About Jamaat-e-Islami

Jamaat-e-Islami (JI), the Islamist party, must be involved fully in the opposition movement, either independently or jointly. JI has the grassroots support, organizational strength and competence. The party is also known to be strict disciplinarian and relatively honest. Left to itself, the party is largely isolated—a loner—and an easy target for the fascists who follow the Indian agenda to eliminate Islamist forces. The party is still awaiting official registration, though it is allowed to function.

The East Pakistan chapter of the Jamaat-e-Islami had a controversial role during the Bangladesh liberation war in 1971. It sided with the Pakistan military to preserve the unity of the country, and thus opposed the creation of Bangladesh. Its leadership tried to clarify more than once that the 1971 scenario was complicated. They suspected that an Independent Bangladesh would be a victim of Indian hegemony and encroachment. The Bangladesh under the Awami League, particularly under the Indian protege Hasina, testifies to JI’s suspicion.

In Bangladesh, the JI became a legitimate party, recognizing the independent status of the country. In 1995-96, JI and AL jointly campaigned to establish the Caretaker Government (CTG). After the elections in 1996, facing a shortage of majority, Sheikh Hasina, the AL President, had to beg Professor Gholam Azam–some say she touched his feet in reverence– the JI President, for his party’s parliamentary support. JI obliged.

However, when the Jamaat joined the BNP alliance in 1990, Hasina decided to take revenge, said to be under Indian instance. She brought charges of war crimes (of 1971) against dozens of JI’s top leaders. Most of the charges were believed to be false and manufactured. Limited defense was allowed. The regime-loyal court ordered execution of many. The recently deceased Maulana Delwar Hossain Sayeedi was one. Sayeedi was a Vice President of JI in addition to being an acknowledged authority on Islam and the Quran. The regime, knowing his popularity, refused Sayeedi’s funeral in Dhaka, more so, because it would pale the Mujib mourning it was observing. But the ghaibana janaza (absentee funeral) continued to be held all over Bangladesh and many places around the world, including the Holy Kaaba in Makkah. In their efforts to prevent those Janazas in Bangladesh, the police clashed with the devotees, arresting many and filing false cases against hundreds.

One should forget 1971, which is a past chapter. This is 2023. Present JI is a Bangladeshi political party, not Pakistani. However, definitive and proven wrongs must be punished, not only of JI but all others, including the AL. JI (Pakistan) was not the only party or entity to oppose Bangladesh and collaborate with Pakistan in those days. According to Zoglul Husain, Sheikh Mujib and his family were the first betrayers of Bangladesh and collaborated with Pakistan from March to December 1971.

My point is that JI must be assessed in its present context. Condemning JI and keeping it out of the opposition movement or mainstream political process is purely an Indian agenda. As such, speaking against the JI today is actually serving the AL/Indian purpose.

 

The writer is a decorated freedom fighter in 1971 and a prolific writer. He authored five books and co-authored seven others.