As a Muslim-majority country, the presence and influence of Islam in the society of Bangladesh is nothing new. In the same way, religion has a special influence on the politics of this country. In the last 2 decades, the visible presence of Islam in the social system of the country has increased significantly. Based on this Islamization and elections, new questions have come to the fore about the influence of Islamist political parties in the country’s politics. This article discusses the historical evolution of Islamic politics in Bangladesh and whether religious political parties can keep up with the demand.
Historical Evolution of Islamic Political Parties
The association of religion with politics in the subcontinent is quite old. From the anti-British movement to the Partition, the presence of religious political parties was visible throughout all events. India and Pakistan were divided based on religious views. The first process of separating politics from religion in this region started with the declaration of India as a secular state. And then Bangladesh government also constitutionally banned religion-based politics in 1972 to separate religion from politics. But in 1976, President Abu Saim issued an ordinance to cancel the ordinance banning religious politics. As a result, there is no longer any obstacle to the entry of Islamists into national politics. In 1976, a religious political party called the Islamic Democratic League emerged as Islamist political party. In the 1979 election, they won 20 seats in the general election and Islamists entered the country’s parliament for the first time. After the death of President Ziaur Rahman, General Mohammad Ershad imposed military rule, thereby disrupting the country’s democratic political system. But at the same time, Jamaat-e-Islami under the leadership of Ghulam Azam made a new debut in Bangladeshi politics, and by using its pre-independence political experience, they quickly gained an opportunity to strengthen its position. Participating in the 1986 presidential election, Hafezzi Hujur created a bit of a surprise in the Islamic politics of that time by winning second place. Jamaat-e-Islam won 20 seats in the 1991 general election. They created a huge wave in the pro-Islamic political arena. Later, BNP formed the government with the support of the Jamaat-e-Islam.
After the death of Hafezzi Huzoor in 1987, three of his disciples namely Mufti Ameni, Pir Saheb Charmonai and Maulana Azizul Haque founded separate political party.
Binary of Islamic Political Parties
When Islamic political parties entered the political arena, it was split into two major movements. Jamaat-e-Islam as reformist and, on the other hand, Deobandi trend as fundamentalist. Through the election of Hafezzi Huzur, the entry of Islamic fundamentalists into the country’s politics was established. Currently, there are 10 Islamic political parties registered in the country and the number of unregistered parties is estimated to be more than 80.
Despite the influence of Islamic parties in domestic politics, Islamic parties are lagging behind in election politics. Only Jamaat-e-Islami has managed to secure their seats in 4 consecutive times in the National Assembly elections. Since the election of 2008, the country’s democratic environment has been in a state of chaos. At the same time, Jamaat, became very ineffective due to its anti-independence political stance and lawsuits. Consequently, the Islamic political parties are highly dispersed within the field.
At present, the Islamist party known as Charmonai Pir Saheb’s party has been able to exert some influence in the political field, but their position in the polling field remains doubtful. It is believed that political parties do not have much influence in constituency-wise elections, but overall they represent 5-10 percent of the vote. As a result, the main political parties are always trying to attract the Islamic parties to stay ahead in poll politics. As a result, the position of Islamic-style parties in various electoral alliances becomes noticeable.
Rise of Qaumi Genre in Mainstream Politics
In 2013, during the Shapla Chattar rally, through Hefazat Islam, the parties of the Qaumi genre returned to political discussion. In this movement, about 100 activists died in a government crackdown. Later, the Awami League government entered into a kind of agreement with Hefazat. But in 2018, Hefazat tried to rise again through the anti-sculpture movement, but the government strictly suppressed it and some central leaders were arrested. Among them, various leaders including Mamunul Haque were actively involved in politics. At the same time, the Islamic governance movement under the leadership of Islamic Shashontonro Andolon Allama Rezaul Karim became active in field politics, the party announced its candidates in 297 seats in the 2018 elections. In 2023, They participated in the Barisal City Corporation elections. Therefore, although the vote of Islami Shasontontro Andolon among the Qaumi-style parties is somewhat unknown, their presence in the political arena has increased significantly.
Why are Islami Political Parties failing in Bangladesh?
It can be assumed that the status of Islamic parties in the political environment of Bangladesh is not satisfactory although we have 90 percent Muslim population. Behind this, various problems including lack of qualified political leadership, disunity, anti-youth leadership, and internal conflicts of parties have come to the fore at different times. A trend of visible Islamization has been observed in the social system of the country in the last 2 decades. But at the same time, the Islamic parties are losing their position in politics. The biggest reason behind this is the mutual conflict between the parties. In the last two decades, we have seen the establishment of about 60-70 Islamist political parties, resulting in the overall division of the vote bank among the parties, but the overall vote didn’t increase. And this party conflict has narrowed the politics of Islamic parties. Even after 50 years of independence, the entire Islamic parties have failed to stand on a single platform. The ideology struggle between the Jamaat and the Qaumi has further complicated this politics. As a result, the two groups are constantly losing their strength behind the ideological struggle. At the same time, the biggest strength of the Qaumi madrasas has been their madrasahs. They limited their politics to the Madrasa and Mahfil areas. which have become the cause of their loss of power. Their participation in politics has been narrower. As a result, Islamist political parties are being used as religious tools of BNP and Awami League.
Therefore, the surface image shows that there is no possible hope for development in the near future. There is no room for a political alliance between Islamic parties, which is a matter of future relief for Awami League-BNP!
Author : Columnist and International Relations analyst