Is Bangladesh's ruling Awami League caving to fundamentalist pressure?
The elections are round the corner.
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Sheikh Hasina is generally perceived to be a secular Prime Minister who remains equally concerned about the well-being of minority Hindus, Christians and Buddhists in Bangladesh.
However, there has been a trend of tacit pressure from within her party to accommodate Muslim interests in the country, as it's the majority community.
There is also an apprehension in ruling party circles that unless Muslims are cajoled to some extent, the Awami League (AL) may not be able to muster votes in the forthcoming elections as Hindus constitute a minuscule votebank, so the party has to depend on the Muslim majority for electoral reasons .
Against this backdrop, and in an apparent bid to give an Islamic flavour to the party, the AL has decided to form an Islamic wing. This concept was put forward by the party's religious affairs secretary Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah at a meeting on May 22 in Dhaka under the headship of party general secretary Abdul Quader.
Among many important decisions taken at the meeting, one significant one was not to give party membership to non-party cadres. This comes after cadres of Jamaat-e-Islami (JeI), the right wing reactionary fundamentalist party which now stands banned, recently infiltrating into the AL to occupy space and Islamise the rank and file of the party.
AL's image also took a battering due to allegations that the turncoats from JeI were perpetrating excesses on Hindus, which included usurping of Hindu property, forced conversions and attacks on places of Hindu worship.
Under these circumstances, the AL is exercising abundant caution in inducting new faces. This issue was discussed threadbare.
The Greek goddess statue in front of the country's Supreme Court came under attack. Photo: India Today
Another facet which surfaced in the meeting was to check one entity, Olama League, which impaired AL's reputation for extortion as well as put pressure on the party for tougher religious laws, including the death penalty for those demeaning Islam. They also interfered in day-to-day administration.
With these things coming in the open, it's clear that the AL is polarised between diehard Muslims and the moderate ones. Each trying to assert one's ideology.
All said and done, the move seems aimed at reinforcing Islam from within. Many Islam-related issues have been bothering the government for quite some time now.
The Greek goddess statue in front of the Supreme Court came under attack by Hefazat-e-Islam for removal as it was seen as unIslamic. Secondly, text books in educational institutions were tampered with to give an Islamic stance to the curriculum. In both cases, the government did not seem firm in its approach.
This leads us to believe there is a likely drift to keep the fundamentalist lobby happy with elections in mind. This, therefore, necessitates formation of an Islamic wing.
Insiders say that the new body, when formed, will have academics and religious scholars. It has to be carefully watched if religious scholars are the orthodox lot who, with passage of time, will call the shots, hijacking the Islamic agenda from the government.
Meanwhile, the recent Saudi Arabia move to pump $10 billion into Bangladesh for construction of mosques has caused a flutter in secular circles.
It is viewed as a way forward to further Islamise the nation and also interpreted as an indication that the secular government is perhaps caving to fundamentalist pressures for an Islamic agenda.