Can Hasina act against the extremists?
Conflicting signals, with security connotations for India, are emerging from Bangladesh. The Supreme Court has confirmed the death sentence of Ali Ahsan Mujahid, the secretary general of the Jamaat-e-Islami (<g data-gr-id="67">JeI</g>), adding a feather in the cap of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina. This is a huge shot in her fight against the 1971 liberation-era war criminals. However, the calamitous assassinations of free thinkers and bloggers has not only brought to fore the Awami League’s identity crisis but exposed the Hasina-led administration’s soft underbelly.
Let us keep in mind one very important fact: The brouhaha generated in the Indian media before and after Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Bangladesh visit was entirely misplaced as the Land Boundary Agreement constitutes the fringe outpost of bilateral relations. The core areas are security-related issues, a growth of fundamentalist terrorist outfits in Bangladesh and the subsequent export of their activities to India and, of course, the contentious issue of sharing of river waters. Whether the Indian prime minister took up these issues with his Bangladeshi counterpart is not known and remains a mystery greater than an Agatha Christie novel.
The situation in Bangladesh has ominous portents - so much so that even the prime minister chose not to send any public condolences to the wife of slain Bangladeshi-American blogger Avijit Roy. This admittedly would have been the right message to send. Hasina might have done it privately but her son <g data-gr-id="75">Sajeev</g> Wazed Joy had shocked the nation by admitting that it was not possible for his party or its government to stand for reason as the Awami League does not want to be characterized as an atheistic organization.
So one can conclude fairly and safely say that Hasina’s control over her country is on shaky grounds. This gives rise to another very important question - to what extent would the judgments of the war crimes tribunals be useful in rooting out religious fundamentalism?
It is true that Abdul Quader Mollah and Mohammed Qamaruzzaman, two top-level functionaries of the <g data-gr-id="51">JeI</g>, have been executed and similar orders have been passed against other party bigwigs. But this has hardly affected the fundamentalist outfit which has a whopping five million members.
Be that as it may the worrisome aspect for India, as well as for Bangladesh, is that religious fundamentalism has been slowly penetrating the Awami League as well. Last April, the Awami <g data-gr-id="76">Olama</g> League, the Awami League-backed mullah organization, demanded the death penalty for secular and liberal bloggers, scrapping of the National Education Policy as “it diminishes the role of Islam” and doing away with the anti-child marriage law because it purportedly goes against the holy texts of Islam.
Since then, Awami League leaders have been trying hard to deny any connections with this organization but this has not worked as two factions of the <g data-gr-id="77">Olama</g> League have long been using the address of the Awami League headquarters and participating in the latter’s programmes. During the last Ramadan, the <g data-gr-id="78">Olama</g> League had given its Iftar party at the Ganabhavan, the official residence of the Bangladeshi prime minister. One more bit of information will be interesting. The <g data-gr-id="79">Olama</g> League was founded in 1996 with direct backing from Amir Hossain Amu, a bigwig of the Awami League and an important minister in the Hasina government.
Sajeev Wazed Joy’s statement clearly indicates that his party will make a difference between liberation-time war criminals and other fundamentalist organizations, going hammer and tongs against the former but possibly adopting a hesitant attitude towards the latter.
Not only has the Bangladesh government failed to protect the young bloggers; it has unleashed several repressive measures to gag their voices. Some time back, a young lad named Asif Mohiuddin was jailed for airing his views through blogs. Moreover, the government pressurized blogging platforms to block the views of those it did not approve.
Perhaps Hasina herself has realized that it is now difficult for anybody to deny <g data-gr-id="62">the space</g> which fundamentalist politics has created for itself in Bangladesh. According to Abul Barkat, a professor of economics at Dhaka University, the Jamaat-e-Islami has created a “state within a state” and an “economy within <g data-gr-id="60">economy’</g>. It earns an annual profit of $278 million from the different business ventures it runs. Ten percent of this goes to sustain the <g data-gr-id="55">JeI</g> and fund other militant religious outfits.
According to Barkat, while the mainstream national economy grows by six percent, the growth rate of the Jamaat-controlled economy is nine percent. Another startling figure is that the <g data-gr-id="49">JeI</g>-run economy amounts to 8.62 percent of the nation’s developmental budget.
In 2005, Shaikh Abdur Rahaman, the deceased leader of the Jamaat-ul-Mujahideen Bangladesh, had boasted that he had helped 40 candidates win the elections to the Bangladesh parliament. In spite of its social base, Jamaat had only a few MPs. So who were the other candidates winning on JMB support?
Hasina certainly has her work cut out.