Communal versus secular Bangladesh

theindependentbd.com | 24 April, 2017 00:00 00 AM
Bangladesh is a country where people of all faiths have been living together for generations peacefully upholding respect for each other’s religion
G.M. Quader
Majority of population in Bangladesh are Muslim. They practice Islam with devotion but are not communal in mentality. Most of them try to say prayers, fast during Ramadan and follow other rituals of Islam with full sincerity. But, the same people are also found fond of songs, music, dances, dramas, cinema and other activities which do not go firmly with Islamic way of life. When villagers go to a religious congregation and listen to the preaching of Islamic scholars, they are seen praying with tears rolling down their chicks out of genuine passion. The same people are seen enjoying dance of a woman performer during an open air village drama (Jatragan), participating along with in case scope exists, which are not permitted in Islam.
Bangladesh is a country where people of all faiths have been living together for generations peacefully upholding respect for each other’s religion.
Here one can find co-existence of Mosque and Mandir , place of worship for Muslims and Hindus in the same yard.
Prominent political parties of the country also have taken a similar character. They provide all seriousness to Islamic values but maintain a pragmatic non-communal attitude towards day to day activities. Apparently, this may seem to be contradictory. But parties which could do that balancing perfectly got support of enough population possibly for that and could become one of majors. To be totally communal or secular in character may look good from ideological point of view for a party. But that ensure too small a support base to be called popular. Parties with un-adulterated political philosophy could not become an important factor as yet in Bangladesh politics.
Considering their popular support, past performance and present activities, three political parties e.g., Awami League (AL), Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) and Jatiyo Party (JP), are considered significant political players in the present context of Bangladesh.
Perception of common people including its own activists and supporters as regards political character of these parties are seen as follows; AL – secular, BNP- communal, JP – to some extend communal. Major reason behind formation of this opinion is political inclination of parties and its leaders who are in association.
AL generally forms alliance with left lean liberal parties, organizations and individuals for movement or election. They are being considered secular for that reason.
BNP on the other hand has been in alliance with Islam based rightist conservative parties. It is seen in the leading role of communal elements and organizations during any movement or election. Moreover, Late President Ziaur Rahman, founder of BNP incorporated “BISMILLA-AR-RAHMAN-AR-RAHIM (In the name of Allah, the beneficent, the Merciful)” in the beginning of constitution, which illustrated fondness towards Islam. Considering BNP as communal is the natural consequence of the above.
JP in its initial stage replaced BNP as adversary of AL and became friendly with religion based communal parties. Afterwards, at some point of time they sided with AL and associates, participated in movement and election against BNP and alliance. During their rule and subsequent different activities they could be identified as secular. But, JP introduced ‘Islam as the state religion’ by inserting article 2A in the constitution. This has created all the confusion and JP has been marked as a communal party by the minority communities and liberals.
Both the above insertion in constitution by BNP and JP were not accepted by the minority communities and leftist/ liberals. They have been demanding withdrawal of those.
Mahajot an alliance of mostly left leaning parties and JP, supported by minority communities came to power with absolute majority under the leadership of AL in 2008 national election. AL alone could capture absolute majority of more than two third of the parliament seats necessary for constitutional amendment. AL brought the following changes in respect of above in the constitution through Fifteenth Amendment;
Firstly, “Bismismillah ar Rahman ar Rahim” (In the name of Allah, the beneficent, the Merciful)”, was replaced by,
“Bismismillah ar Rahman ar Rahim” (In the name of Allah, the beneficent, the Merciful)/In the name of the Creator, the Merciful.”
Secondly,“2A. The state religion of the Republic is Islam, but other religions may be practiced in peace and harmony in the Republic.”, was replaced by,
“2A. The state religion of the Republic is Islam, but the State shall ensure equal status and equal right in the practice of Hindu, Buddhist, Christian and other religions.”
So, when the time and opportunity came, AL failed to go beyond minor adjustments as above. Instead of withdrawing the inserted portions, the same was reintroduced with slight modification. That clearly showed AL’s similarity with JP and BNP in respect of being communal or secular.
There is a saying that a person is known by the company he keeps. It is a fact that AL has been keeping a friendly relation with secular liberal elements and organizations. But, there are instances when AL takes religion based communal forces in their side during movement or election.
BNP has been created under a situation when it automatically turned out to be a political platform for anti-AL elements and a shelter for communal parties. It had little scope to choose its own companion. But, BNP also contained leftist elements in its fold and took left lean parties as its allies during election and movement.
BNP was in dismay after the assassination of Gen. Ziaur Rahman, the founder of BNP. A political vacuum was created and formation of JP started filling that gap. Being similar in character leaders, activists and supporters of BNP started joining JP. JP became a replacement of BNP. Scenario changed afterwards as already mentioned and JP became friendly with liberals and joined AL led alliance.
From the above, two conclusions may be arrived at e.g., a) all the three important political parties are having very similar political philosophy;
b) Those parties are to some extend communal and also secular at the same time and may be termed as followers of mid path.
One of these parties, in command of considerable support become head if and when alliance is formed. Parties of any particular inclination may join the group in case of movement or election and being accepted without ideological conflict. But, secular and communal forces, in consideration of their voter’s choice, generally feel comfortable to join the coalition where they see concentration of their type
Political philosophy is not considered an important issue in election. Negotiations are done and benefits are allowed generally on organizational strength and support base.
Recently, honorable Prime Minister and AL chief had a cordial meeting with top leaders of Islam based organization ‘Hefajat e Islam’. She showed positive response to most of their demands. In context of above, it may be considered pragmatic from stand point of her party.
The writer is a politician and former minister
http://www.theindependentbd.com/printversion/details/91500

G M Quader