Marriage of Convenience
government woke up from a long slumber last week. In the wake
of widespread local and international criticisms, it banned
Jagrata Muslim Janata Bangladesh (JMJB) and Jama'atul Mujaheedin
Bangladesh (JMB), and arrested four leaders of the banned
took the government so long? With the shadows of its two fundamentalist
allies pulling strings from behind, how capable is the Bangladesh
Nationalist Party (BNP) to rein in these militant outfits?
reliance on religion as a political tool to gain popular support
dates back to its birth. Born in the cantonment by a military
ruler, the party gave shelter to a wide array of politicians.
In fact Gen Ziaur Rahman's BNP was a classic example of unity
of the opposites. From frustrated Maoists to dormant fundamentalists,
the party had a place for practically each and everyone who
sought its shelter.
stance was hardly changed when the party surprised everyone
by winning the 1991 general elections. As far as the paradigm
of votes was concerned, 1991's general elections had shown
that it would never go to power alone without the help of
the religious elements of the society.
League, BNP's archrival, which was deemed to win the elections,
soon followed the BNP's path. The party had always boasted
on its secular credentials; but at the first party conference
immediately after the defeat, the AL dropped socialism from
its party manifesto; and Sheikh Hasina, the party leader started
to wear a head-scarf, apparently to become more Islamic than
her BNP counterpart.
off the centre-left brand that the party had been wearing
since its formation around 50 years ago, the party made an
alliance with the Jamaat-e-Islami Bangladesh (JI). In a move
that irked most of its secular supporters, the AL even launched
simultaneous programmes with the JI, who only a year ago had
been a political pariah.
eventually dumped Jamaat, and the party, which won 18 seats
in the previous elections, did not fare well-- with every
party fighting its own war, the JI only bagged two seats.
That disaster taught the JI a harsh lesson: Without the help
of BNP, the party would not be able to proceed further.
on the other hand, which failed to get even the expected number
of seats, had learnt something that is no less jarring for
its polity. The BNP can lose JI's friendship only at its peril;
thus a life-long marriage of convenience was born. In the
general elections that followed the AL tasted the most humiliating
defeat in its political history in the hands of the BNP-JI
led Four-Party Alliance.
after coming back to power, riding on an electoral landslide,
the Alliance blamed the opposition for the bomb blasts that
had rocked the country during the AL's five-year term in office.
In fact from the very first such blast, because of its sheer
political insecurity, the BNP have been blaming the AL for
hatching a conspiracy to tarnish the country's image in the
eyes of the donors.
conspicuously silent when newspaper reports suggested that
a section of BNP members had been giving shelter to Bangla
Bhai, the so-called operations commander of the recently banned
JMJB. The party broke the silence at times only to deny the
existence of the group.
meanwhile, went on. Local police made some significant breakthroughs
and the arrestees, who confessed carrying out a number of
terrorist acts, were granted bail.
wake of a barrage of international criticisms, the prime minister
ordered Bangla Bhai's arrest a few months ago. But the police
have so far failed to nab the notorious criminal, who allegedly
in connivance with some local BNP leaders, has established
a reign of terror in northern districts of the country.
standard got a jolt last week when the government was excluded
from a conference on "Good governance" jointly organised
by the European Union, the World Bank and the US State Department.
While the exclusion came as a slap in the face for the Alliance,
M Saifur Rahman, the finance minister, cried innocence.
there is a meeting on Bangladesh's development process, this
should be held in Bangladesh. We are a sovereign country,"
he told journalists a day before the conference begun.
the government started to clamp down on the JMJB and JIB from
the day the Washington meet began. Four leaders of JMJB, JIB
and Ahale Hadith Bangladesh (AHM) were arrested on February
24 in a pre-dawn raid across the country. Both the JMJB and
JIB were banned; and the press note that followed blamed the
groups for carrying out some of the blasts that took place
in the country in the last 10 years.
Minister's claptrap, meanwhile, has remained as vigorous as
ever. Even the day his government slapped a ban on the JMJB
and JIB, Saifur termed the newspaper reports on Bangla Bhai
and cronies as "foul propaganda".
after the February 23 arrest, reports on these extremist groups
started to flood the front pages of different local dailies.
Eleven more activists of the banned outfits were arrested
in Dinajpur and the police seized bomb-making materials, printers,
acid, electric wires and batteries.
left to right) Begum Khaleda Zia, Motiur Rahman Nizami and
Sheikh Hasina. Both the BNP and AL formed alliances with the
Jamaat-e-Islami Bangladesh (JI).
BNP's two religious partners in the alliance have reacted
sharply to the clamp down. Of them, Fazlul Haque Amini, leader
of Islami Oikko Jote (IOJ), a small constituent in the Alliance,
said, "There is a conspiracy going on to prevent Islamic
revolution in the name of taming Islamic militancy".
Abdur Rob Yousufi, general secretary of a faction of the IOJ)
goes further. Asked to give his reaction about the banning,
Yousufi told the BBC's Bangla service, "There is no Islamic
militant organisation in the country."
has remained dead-against the idea of a crackdown. "The
government has launched the crackdown in the line with the
US. The main opposition has also provoked the donor agencies
to take anti-Bangladesh and anti-Islamic stance," JI
MP Mufti Abdus Sattar Akon told the Daily Star.
are high that the BNP's new-found zeal will die down when
the attention of local and international media shifts to a
different issue. Many observers have termed it as eyewash
while the others want to wait and see if the BNP will walk
down a path it has never taken before. If the party does change
its attitude towards the issue of religious extremism, it
will mark a major shift in the BNP's one-and-half decade old
history. With the next general elections getting closer, only
time will tell if the BNP is capable of taking a U-turn.
(R) thedailystar.net 2004