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Millennium Post

Why paint shahbag in religious colours?

They have taken some time to react, but now political forces supporting the BNP and other opposition parties in Bangladesh are hitting back -- from Kolkata to Dhaka, they are campaigning that the move to put 1971 pro-Pak war criminals on trial is ‘anti Islamic.’

The International Crime Tribunal (ICT) was set up in Bangladesh in 2010, during the tenure of the Awami League government headed by Prime Minister Hasina Wazed. It is part of the League’s political programme to try and punish people guilty of siding with Pakistan and opposing the freedom struggle for an independent Bangladesh in 1970-71. Mostly such people were members and supporters of the Jamaat-e-Islam and smaller groups like the Al Badar, Al Shams, etc.

As Sheikh Mujibur Rahman took over as supreme leader of the triumphant Awami league after Bangladesh attained freedom, the Jamat was banned from the political arena. However, the situation changed after the military coup and assassination of Sheikh Mujib on August 15, 1975.

By 1977, his successor Lieut Gen Ziaur Rahman allowed the re-entry into politics of the pro-Pak elements as there began a conscious effort to reduce the new country’s linkage with and dependence on India. There was more emphasis on Islamic values and culture, a gradual distancing from secularism and socialist values as cultivated by Shiekh Mujib. The Jamaat staged a gradual comeback. Zia himself set up his own Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP), which became the League Chief political rival group in the
following years.

Not surprisingly, the new dispensation developed closer political ties with Pakistan and the USA. Official efforts to locate and arrest the killers of Shiekh Mujib within the army were stopped. People connected with the plot to murder the founder of Bangladesh were rewarded with diplomatic assignments in some cases.

The recent official move to amend existing laws so that pro-Pak war criminals of 1970-71 involved with the massacre of an estimated 3 million Bangladeshis can be brought to book, by reopening old cases and trying them under the ICT , have been seen by opposition parties as an act of political vendetta on part of the ruling League. Under Sheikh Hasina as prime Minister, Bangladesh has had several people hanged for their involvement in the murder of her father in 1975, which was not possible when the BNP was in power.

While the move to reopen old wounds and settle the ‘unfinished business of 1970-71’ as Awami leaguers describe it, has been widely welcomed by the new generation of youths in Bangladesh, alarm bells have been ringing among opposition parties and leaders. Intriguingly, major Islamic countries including Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Pakistan do not want new trials and punishment for the war criminals of 1970-71, Pakistan for understandable reasons.

Since the start of the mighty Shahbag agitation in Dhaka on Feb 5, the determination and intensity of the young demonstrators baying for the blood of war criminals shook the Islamic religious establishment. Inevitably, the BNP as the major opposition party was sucked into the controversy. But efforts by Jamaat and BNP supporters to disrupt and oppose the Shahbag agitation, often through violence in several parts of Bangladesh, have not succeeded so far.

The opposition sees the present agitation as part of a plan by the ruling League to crush its opposition with national elections very near. Most of the targeted leaders belong to the Jamaat, the BNP or other parties, even as the demand to ban Jamaat from political activities gets stronger.

Meanwhile, what seems to be a pro Jamaat campaign is being strongly carried on several websites. A typical excerpt taken from one website runs, ‘The name Bangladesh means the country of Bengal/Bengalis. As against Islamic Pakistan, Bangladesh does not want anything like Islam attached to the Bengal nation that has promoted deformed Leftism. Madam Shiekh Hasina who spent some time in prison for serious proved corruption charges had inherited her power from her husband Shiekh Mujibur Rahman. Now she is busy weakening Islamic infrastructure and strengthening anti Islam networks with assistance from Western donor states and enemies of Islam.’

The writer, apparently a Pakistani, is variously described as an educationist, a commentator on world affairs, a founder for the Centre of International Affairs (CIA), among other things. It is somewhat surprising that an analyst of such eminence should be so blissfully ignorant of Hasina’s relationship with the late Mujibur Rahman!

However, where ignorance is bliss, it is folly to be wise, as the saying goes. Such views have found an instant resonance in supposedly secular Kolkata, West Bengal, of all places. Some time ago, an organisation of Muslim students at a press conference condemned the Shahbag agitation as being ‘anti-Islamic’ and then refused to answer questions from newsmen! And on 21 February, the day of two major bomb explosions in Hyderabad killing 16 people, there was a procession of several thousand youths, belonging to four organisations, that marched on the Bangladesh Deputy High Commission at Park Circus, protesting against the Shahbag agitation.

The demonstrators demanded that the Jamat activists in Bangladesh should not be punished and harassed for what had happened in 1970-71. ‘It seemed to punish criminals for their crimes against humanity was an anti-religious act, but not against religion to commit mass murders,’ said an observer.

Veteran political analyst Barun Dasgupta notes, ‘The political character of the demonstrators becomes clear from their demands. Living on Indian soil, they are demanding that the mass killers and rapists of pro Pak Jamat-e-Islami in Bangladesh should not be put on trial. It would not be out of place to ask to whom such people owe their allegiance – certainly not to India!’

These are the forces, adds Dasgupta, who in 2007 had driven out writer Taslima Nasreen through a major riot in Kolkata and recently sabotaged a scheduled visit by another writer, Salman Rushdie. It is certainly time In India to be aware of such forces and unite against them, he suggests. (IPA)
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