The border between politics and religion has always been rather thin in Bangladesh. The Jamaat-e-Islami is not the only political party that has exploited this. But it is different from other parties in that religious indoctrination, not politics, is its primary objective. The recent order of a high court in Bangladesh de-registering the Jamaat as a political party is of great significance for the country’s democratic politics. The order bars the Jamaat from participating in the parliamentary polls due in Bangladesh this year-end. It has not had a large vote share in the polls so far, the political preferences of the majority of people being divided between the Bangladesh Awami League and the Bangladesh Nationalist Party. But the electoral arithmetic belies Jamaat’s growing influence in Bangladeshi society. In the party’s scheme of things, capturing political power is less important than making Bangladesh an Islamist State. Which other party gains from the court’s ban on the Jamaat participating in the elections is thus only a minor issue. The more important question is whether the legal move helps save democracy in Bangladesh.
Few other countries have paid as high a price as Bangladesh for securing independence and for nurturing democracy. The Jamaat, which had opposed the country’s liberation from Pakistan, was always a bit of an oddity in its politics. It has merely used democracy in order to further its Islamist agenda. Unfortunately, military coups and sectarian politics in Bangladesh have helped the Jamaat not just enter politics but expand its social base. The recent mass upsurge in Dhaka’s Shahbag Square, demanding punishment for the perpetrators of the ‘war crimes’ of 1971, was aimed mainly at the Jamaat. True, Sheikh Hasina Wajed’s government took the first step by setting up the war crimes tribunal. But the future of freedom is too precious for any society to be left only to governments and politicians.