Change in Jamaat
Last November, as senior leaders of Jamaat-e-Islami Bangladesh made a series of pointed statements about the Liberation War, I asked: why did Jamaat change its stance (see here)? A recent Shamokal news item may provide some clue. The article (see here) reports that a leadership change in Jamaat is imminent. It notes the pressure the party is under on the war crimes issue. Plus, there are corruption allegations against those leaders who served in the last government. If this report is true, then what conjectures can we draw about Jamaat’s changed rhetoric last year? And what are the implications of a leadership change in Jamaat?
If the report is true, then one interpretation is that there is an internal power struggle within Jamaat. If I were a 35 year old upcoming Jamaat leader in Jessore or Rajshahi, I’d call for a leadership change. Nizami/Mujahid/Kader Molla/Syeedi have the stigma of war crimes on their forehead. If these guys are removed from leadership, it would be far easier for me to sell my ‘Allah’r ain shotloker shashon’ message.
Internal power struggles like this means that Nizami/Mujahid had no chance but to go on the offensive about their role in 1971. ‘There was no war crime, hence I’m no war criminal, so stop demanding my removal’ – perhaps this is why Jamaat changed its stance.
If there are such tussles going on within Jamaat, how would we know? How many in the Bangladeshi opinionmaking circle follow internal workings of Jamaat?
Of course, there is another possibility. Perhaps there is no internal power struggle, but there is pressure from outside. Perhaps the powers-that-be are pushing for a leadership change in Jamaat. The idea here is to make Jamaat ‘more acceptable’ as a partner in the King’s Party aka Jatiyatabadi Moha Front. Jamaat can provide a very disciplined cadre force that can ‘take care’ of any sudden uprisings like that last August.
Or perhaps it’s a combination of the two.
Now, if the report is true, then we can expect a leadership change in Jamaat sooner rather than later. Historically, Jamaat leaders have kept a low profile for the larger party interest – Ghulam Azam and Syeedi both remained out of lime light for most of the 1980s for example.
We need to think about the implications of a leadership change in Jamaat.
Firstly, will make it easier to try the leading war criminals? It is very important to realise that war criminals, Jamaat, and broader Islamist politics are separate issues that should not be, must not be, mixed up – a point sadly lost on many. But it’s also true that as long as Nizami and other Al Badr commanders are leading a major political party, it will be difficult to put them on trial. In that respect, a leadership change in Jamaat can make a trial easier.
But, it is also the case that a lot of calls for war crimes trial – particularly those coupled with calls for banning Jamaat – are motivated not by a demand for justice, but by partisan political tactics. If the war criminals are removed from the scene, this will make it harder to sustain a call for banning Jamaat on the grounds of war crimes. In that world, war crimes trial will be delinked from electoral politics, which is a good thing. But because of that very delink, will major political parties lose interest in pushing for a trial?
It would be a shame if it were to happen. The last thing anyone seeking justice should want is a war crimes trial presided over by the current military-backed regime that has no support from any major politicial party. Anyone found guilty in such a trial will walk free when the regime or the King’s Party is beaten in an election. Do we really want Mujahid and Syeedi coming out of jail looking like heroes five years from now?
Abstracting from the war crimes issue, will Jamaat under new leadership find it easier to break into the mainstream? If the leadership change is about making Jamaat a partner in the King’s Front, then that is something very ominous. We have seen Jamaat spread its tentacles last time it was in government. Then the senior partner was an established mainstream party. This time Jamaat would be the single most organised party in the coalition.
But what if this is about genuine desire for change within the party? In that case, Jamaat will be in the opposition after the election. If BNP’s reunification doesn’t happen and Awami League wins the election, will the New Jamaat be strong enough to push for becoming the major opposition party?
And what if Awami League doesn’t win? If Awami League ends up in opposition, will it join hand with the New Jamaat in a future andolon?