Jamaat: myths vs facts

Last year, Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh caused a stir by claiming a quarter of Bangladesh is hardcore follower of Jamaat.  Well, Manmohan Singh is a senile idiot has been a rather ineffective politician who has seen his best days years ago.  He was flat out wrong on Jamaat, which has never won more that 12% of votes or 6% of seats in any election.  And those highs were in 1991.  In 2008, it won less than 4% vote and less than 1% seat.

The thing is, it’s not just Singh who has constantly over-estimated Jamaat’s power over the past couple of decades.  Awami Leaguers and so-called pro-1971 people see Jamaat behind everything.  Apparently Golam Azam’s son was running the army, even though he was just a brigadier, and there were 25 or so generals above him.  Apparently the andolon by Viqarunnisa girls last year was instigated by the Jamaatis, even though the girls’ choice for the principal was someone who initiated a petition for war crimes trial back in the 1990s.  You get the picture.

And on the other side, BNPwallahs and the so-called jatiyatabadis are no better.  They believe that without Jamaat’s help, they will not be able to face AL on the streets.  Never mind the fact that Jamaat has been unable to hold a single meeting in the country even when their top leadership has been arrested.  They believe that without Jamaati alliance, they will not be able defeat AL electorally.  Never mind that without Jamaat, BNP bagged 116 seats in 1996, and with Jamaat it got merely 32 in 2008.

It was, therefore, very refreshing to see Faruk Wasif bursting the Jamaat myth in Prothom Alo a few weeks ago.  The full article is here.  A few paragraphs are translated over the fold.

As a political party, Jamaat has two clear failures.  First, despite having the largest cadre force, this party has failed to create any movement on its own.  By contrast, with many times smaller strength, leftists have been able to create mass movements on some issues.  While there are influence from the right to left on the political thoughts of the Bangladeshi people, Jamaat has failed to make a mark there.  Jamaat’s ideology and work programme has no connection with the society and culture of this country.  Competing with Awami League, even BNP has been able to establish a culture based on nationalism and Muslim identity.  And that culture has teken root in the broader society outside the party.  Jamaat has nothing like that, they have a rootless party ‘culture’, which is limited to the party.  Secondly, in their 71 year long life, Jamaat’s vote has remained within a small circle.  Analysing at the 1986 to 2008 election results,  it seems that their vote has been limited to the 3-5% range.

Jamaat is without allies even among other Islamist parties.  It’s becoming unprofitable for BNP — their only ally — to maintain the alliance.  Jamaat needs BNP as a political umbrella, and BNP needs Jamaat show strength in the street.  Without this need of BNP’s, Jamaat has no real political basis.  Jamaat is now really a political platform of some businessmen.  Jamaat is not likely to destroy through illegal activities the capital and institutions that yield so much profit for them in the corporate and service sectors.  Besides, the JMB experience proves that Bangladesh is not a fertile ground for militancy.  That’s why, seen without partisan or Islamophobic prism, Jamaat is not a threat to democracy on their own.  They have shown their ugly side only when they ha been sheltered by some big power.  Without the help of BNP or AL or any third force, Jamaat is incapable of doing anything.  They are doing what they can.  They are amassing corporate capital through business, bank, NGO, service organisations.  Their leaders and workers are involved in supervising these businesses and capital.  They will stay away from extremism in the interest of the safety of that capital and the comfort of that wealth.

Jamaat is fundamentally different from the Islamists of Tunisia, Algeria, Turkey or Egypt.  None of those parties stood against the independence of their country, nor were they involved in genocide.  Egypt’s Brotherhood has always been at the receiving end of state oppression.  Excepting current period and some post-independence years, Jamaat has always received milk and honey of power.  Nor is their politics rooted in Bangladesh’s history and culture.  Plus, as long as they remain supportive of war criminals and deny the genocide of 1971, their political legitimacy will remain under question.  And with that kind of questionable character, it will be impossible for them to succeed electorally.  These manifolf weakness notwithstanding, Jamaat has succeeded beyond ability because of the power games and open and covert support of the two big parties.  Both parties had, time to time, paved the path for Jamaat’s advancement.  And Jamaat will look for these opportunities in future too.  One cannot rule out the possibility of AL bargaining with Jamaat to break the BNP-Jamaat alliance.  On 10 February, AL joint secretary general Mahbub Ul Alam Hanif openly said to Jamaat cadres “Create a new Jamaat free of war criminals.  If you were 10 in 1971 then you’re not a war criminal, why should you carry the stigma of war crimes?”  There is some indication of this among a section of western diplomats in the report title ‘Back to the Future’ by the International Crisis Group.  Surely this idea is playing in the minds of many BNP workers and leaders.  That’s because they know that BNP lost vote because of its Jamaat-loving in the last election.

The phobia of Jamaat among the AL supporters and BNP’s politics of hugging it are neither realistic nor strategic.  While most Bangladeshis have escaped this dilemma, it seems that the policymakers of the two main parties have failed to.  The two big parties have nothing to lose by continuing the war crimes trial on one hand, and isolating Jamaat in the political field on the other.  But will they understand their own good?

Source: Alal O Dulal