Consulting Editor, Dhaka
On the last day of last month, when barrister Shahjahan Omar, a member of the BNP standing committee, suddenly made a dramatic announcement to change his party and become the Awami League candidate, the very next day, another drama was being prepared at the residence of a BNP leader in Dhaka city.
There was a meeting between two important leaders of Jamaat-e-Islami, most of the top leaders of which party have been convicted of war crimes, and three important leaders of BNP. While the meeting was going on, another BNP leader, who was relatively young and had recently returned from abroad, joined after a while.
It was not an informal get together. Rather, a BNP standing committee member told the Jamaat leaders in that meeting that their party’s acting chairperson Tarique Rahman, who is fleeing to London with the charge of many cases included corruption, has decided to continue the anti-government movement on the same platform with the Jamaat.
There have been several meetings before and after this meeting in the process of forming an alliance between old allies BNP and Jamaat. Although most of the senior leaders of the BNP objected, Tarique Rahman directly assigned a member of the standing committee to coordinate with the Jamaat. Even a standing committee member of the party stationed abroad is in regular contact to know the progress of this process.
Jamaat Central Naib-e- Amir (Vice President) Dr. Syed Abdullah Muhammed Taher has accepted the fact that the BNP has proposed a movement on the same platform as them. When asked, he told Bangla Herald, ‘They (BNP) were in alliance with us for a long time. The alliance did not continue due to various reasons. But even then our political objective is still the same – we want this government to fall.”
He claimed that for a long time a senior leader of BNP has been talking to various levels of leaders of Jamaat. Recently, that discussion has gained momentum. Especially the acting chairperson of BNP himself has shown interest in the matter. Dr. Taher said, “Both of us are thinking about the matter. Plans are underway to figure out how. The name of the banner has not been finalized yet. But there has been a general consensus that we will enter the field together again.’
Barrister Zamir Uddin Sarkar, a senior member of the BNP Standing Committee, believes that if it is possible to bring down the government by using the power of the Jamaat, then an alliance should be formed with them. He said, ‘Alone, the chances of success in the movement against this government are decreasing. That’s why everyone should stay together. And we have seen that Jamaat is a big force in the past too.’ Although this leader claims, he knows nothing about forming an alliance with Jamaat.
Disagreement within BNP
While Jamaat-e-Islami leaders have been somewhat open about a possible alliance, the BNP, which is essentially the main initiator of the process, is yet to open up about the issue.
However, speaking to several key leaders of the party, most of them are currently against any new alliance process with Jamaat-e-Islami. However, they do not want to open their mouths directly due to Tarique Rahman’s positive signal with this process.
A BNP standing committee member told Bangla Herald on condition of anonymity, “If something like this (alliance with Jamaat) happens, it will be another big mistake for BNP’s politics.”
He claimed that even though there was an alliance before, BNP has carried out anti-government movement without Jamaat in the middle. And that movement has gained international acceptance. Again, due to non-alliance with the Jamaat, the left progressive organizations are feeling relieved in the simultaneous movement. But the leader of BNP fears that if there is an alliance with Jamaat again, the wrong message may be sent to the outside world about this movement.
The leader also claimed that BNP’s participation in this process can be a big relief for the current government. He told Bangla Herald, ‘We have to think about why a member of the standing committee is so eager to form this process. We have to be sure whether this is a trap on the part of the government or not. Or whether we are stepping into someone else’s trap or not, that also needs to be carefully observed.’
Recently, BBC Bangla talked to Salauddin Ahmed, a member of the party’s standing committee. BBC reported that he is saying that they want the current Awami League government to not be able to hold one-sided elections, so that a national unity should be formed.
Salahuddin said, “We are calling on all those who are boycotting the one-party elections on January 7 to restore democracy, so that a national unity can be built to achieve the demands of the people.”
However, he did not give any direct answer to the question whether there is any discussion with Jamaat to include the idea of national unity of BNP.
However, in the same BBC report, a statement by Jamaat-e-Islami Assistant Secretary General Abdul Halim was quoted. He said, ‘A process or discussion can be said to have started. But what will happen, I can not say now. It will not be right to say anything more about this.’
An adviser to the BNP chairperson claimed on the condition of anonymity that this new strategy of the BNP could be to use the power that the Jamaat has on the streets. However, he warned, “The image of Jamaat is not good in home and abroad.” If they cannot be controlled in joint movement with them at this moment, then it can be suicidal.
Another central leader of BNP said that before Mirza Fakhrul Islam Alamgir, the general secretary of the party, went to jail this time, the Jamaat issue was discussed several times within the party. But every time the Secretary General and senior leaders spoke against it.
The central leader said, “When the party’s general secretary, standing committee member Mirza Abbas, Amir Khosru Mahmud Chowdhury, Zahir Uddin Swapan and many other leaders are in jail, a part of the party arranged to send a wrong message to Tarique Rahman in London. Standing committee member Iqbal Hasan Mahmud Tuku is also out of the country at the moment. As a result, there is currently no one to oppose that part of the party. And on that occasion, they are trying to make an alliance with Jamaat.”
Difference of opinion even within Jamaat
There are different opinions within Jamaat-e-Islami about this new initiative of BNP. A large part of the young leaders, especially those who have emerged from the Chhatra Shibir, the students wing of Jamaat, are now against the alliance with the BNP.
They think that it is more reasonable to continue the anti-government movement as it is going on simultaneously. Especially, these young leaders feel that they have no chance to settle down as BNP has thrown it in the past.
The leader of a unit of the Dhaka Metropolitan Jamaat, who was once the top leader of the Chhatra Shibir, claimed that when the Jamaat was in great danger by taking part in the anti-government movement, the BNP could not even support them directly.
The leader said, “The way many top leaders of BNP have spoken against the Jamaat in their public speeches, the high command should think about whether they should be forgotten so quickly.”
Talking to several leaders of Jamaat, it is known that they have chosen a new strategy to carry out their organizational activities across the country. In those areas where economic activity is the main basis of their cadre-based politics, they think they are safe for now. Especially the way their former leaders and activists have created new businesses with new names across the country, they are providing great strength to their leaders and activists. In such a situation, they are also thinking how correct it would be to form a new alliance directly with BNP, according to the sources of Jamaat.
Discomfort in other parties
Despite not being registered with the Election Commission, due to Jonayed Saki’s personal identity, the Gansamhati Andolon is an important party in the ongoing anti-government movement with the BNP. The topic of BNP-Jamaat came up in the discussion of some leaders of the party with Feroz Ahmed, who is known as the think tank of the party. Most of the leaders and activists there objected to stay with Jamaat in case of BNP’s alliance. Although Feroz Ahmed himself said that he does not see anything negative about this issue.
One such leader, who was in that discussion, told Bangla Herald on condition of anonymity, “Long before the Gansamhati Andolon was born as a party, in the late 90s, our student organization Chhatra Federation was broken into two parts. One part went under the leadership of Ujjwal Balo with Badruddin Umar, the other part remained under the leadership of Jonayed Saki with Professor Anu Muhammad. A key issue in that rupture at that time was how we view fundamentalism and sectarianism. Now after so long we are not willing to face the same question again.
However, Jonayed Saki, the chief coordinator of the Gansamhati Andolon, claims that the government’s downfall is their only goal at the moment. They are working with that goal, Mr. Saki said, “We are doing our movement. BNP is doing its own movement in Oder. Our purpose is one. But we have not disappeared into BNP. So I am not thinking about who is doing what for now.”
A former leader of the Biplobi Chhatra Moitri claimed that there is a kind of discomfort among the leaders of the Biplobi Workers Party as well.
He said, “BNP has already started thinking that without the help of Jamaat, they cannot succeed in the movement. So they will form alliance with Jamaat again. But if that happens, our own political existence will also be threatened. For that reason, we will definitely not be with that alliance.”
Very enthusiastic Noor
Although various parties are uncomfortable with the new alliance possibility of Jamaat with BNP, Nurul Haque Noor, president of a section of the Gana Adhikar Parishad, is very enthusiastic about this.
The former DUCSU VP claimed that the way the movement is going now, there is very little chance of success. But with the power of Jamaat, if they can join together in a movement across the country, then it will be difficult for the government to handle it.
Noor said, “They (in Jamaat) who were war criminals have been sentenced and hanged. Now there should be no problem. The government offered Jamaat 35 seats. But Jamaat did not accept it. Now that the movement will be effective if united, those who are creating issues with Jamaat, they actually do not want the current government to fall.”
However, several BNP leaders have indicated that Nurul Haque Noor’s over-eager attitude has created doubts among them. They claim that although Noor lacks political judgment, the allegations of secret communication with him from various quarters are very old.
On the other hand, along with Noor, the Gano Forum also wants BNP to form a new alliance with Jamaat.