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72nd Founding Anniversary: What key challenges are ahead of Awami League now?

  • Published at 12:21 am June 23rd, 2021
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File photo of the Awami League's headquarters at Bangabandhu Avenue in Dhaka Syed Zakir Hossain/Dhaka Tribune

Critics say the party hardly faces political pressure these days, while Awami League leaders claim they are mainly struggling with intruders and ‘hybrid’ party men  

As the Bangladesh Awami League, one of the oldest and largest political parties in the country, marks its 72nd founding anniversary on Wednesday, the major question arises: what challenges does it face now?

Some critics and analysts say that the party is passing its “best moments” since 2009 as it is hardly contested by any other political group. The Awami League has been running the state for three times in a row since then, which may be a major reason for the situation, they state. 

However, senior Awami League leaders claim the journey was not that easy in the beginning, and that as a ruling party, they are not totally unchallenged.

The emergence of fundamentalist forces in the country is a major blow for the party, many say, referring to the incorporation of “outsiders” and “hybrid” leaders and activists into the party. 

Internet propaganda by some vested groups also tries putting the party into trouble at times, especially before any major elections. 

Its birth, ups and downs

On June 23, 1949, the supporters of Huseyn Shaheed Suhrawardy at the Rose Garden of KM Das Lane formed the Awami Muslim League.

Having moved out of the Muslim League, progressive leaders and workers floated the Awami Muslim League and then in a process of secularization, the word "Muslim" was later dropped from the name of the party. And this was the beginning of the Awami League in 1955.

Maulana Abdul Hamid Khan Bhashani and Shamsul Haq of Tangail were the first president and general secretary, respectively, of the party. Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman was made its joint secretary while being in jail.

Bangabandhu assumed the leadership of the Awami League through the council of the party in March 1966, a month after he had announced the Six-Point programme in Lahore. It was not long before he became the unparalleled leader of the Bangali nation and, as the Father of the Nation, the architect of independent Bangladesh.

After the assassination of Bangabandhu and most of his family members on August 15, 1975 and the killing of four national leaders inside the Dhaka Central Jail on November 3 in the same year, the Awami League was without a unifying leader and at the time the party was divided into many factions. Meanwhile, Zohra Tajuddin bravely tried keeping the party in shape in those uncertain times.

Bangabandhu's daughter Sheikh Hasina took the helm of the Awami League after returning to the country from exile in May 1981 and set about reorganising the party.

Since then, she has been leading the party for three decades and has formed the government four times alongside waging different crucial democratic movements.

Also Read - Awami League plans muted celebrations to mark foundation day on Wednesday

Facing radical forces is a key challenge

In recent times, the rise of Hefazet-e-Islam and some other Islam-based various organizations has been a major challenge for the Awami League-led government.

Awami League Joint General Secretary Mahbubul Alam Hanif said: “Religious fundamentalist groups turned into a new challenge for us, as they threaten the journey of a secular and developing Bangladesh.

“If we want to keep the development of Bangladesh going, the Awami League is the only choice,” he said.

Political analyst and historian Mohiuddin Ahmed said that those who could have challenged the Awami League have lost their courage.

“Today’s Awami League and the Awami League of 1955 are not the same. Hefazet is a pressure group, which has many supporters in the Awami League,” he said.

After winning the 1970 election, Mohiuddin Ahmed said, Bangabandhu announced his intention of not formulating any law that contradicted the Quran and Hadith, a policy which the Awami League is following currently.

But another joint general secretary of the party, AFM Bahauddin Nasim, said that the party remains wedded to its secular and democratic ideology.

“Those who are critical of us just want to get public attention,” he observed. 

Awami League Office Secretary Biplab Barua said the party is rebuilding the country, under the leadership of Sheikh Hasina, through its secular and democratic values. 

“However, the process had been halted many times for some reason in the past,” he added. 

Throwing out intruders, ‘hybrid’ party men

Awami League Organizing Secretary BM Mozammel Haque said as the party has been in power since 2009, many people joined it for personal gains and put it in trouble. 

“This is such a huge problem for us,” he said, adding that the party chief has ordered that “hybrid” politicians and outsiders be thrown out of the Awami League.

Abdur Rahman, a presidium member of the party, hinting at disputes among some party leaders, said malfunctions take place in such a massive political organization, which is not a big deal at all.

Political party vs local admin

Grassroots level Awami League leaders sometimes allege that they face obstacles from local bureaucrats.  

Some of them said that some deputy commissioners and district-level police officials act like Awami League leaders. 

Refuting the complaint, Mahbubul Alam Hanif said: “The Awami league is a very unified and strong political party. We are not facing too many obstacles.” 

“Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina runs the country’s administration very smoothly-- but sometimes our party colleagues fail to organize our activists comprehensively, and it’s true,” he concluded.

Struggles over cyberspace

Despite giving a boost to internet facilities and overall digitization in the country, the Awami League itself is facing various problems with online propaganda directed against it all too often.

Such propaganda campaigns are launched centering on polls, especially ahead of national elections. 

A central Awami League leader, preferring anonymity, said that during the last general election, many abusive and defamatory contents were spread through social media against the government and the Awami League.

To tackle this challenge, the Awami League has taken measures to maximize its cyber force by involving party activists across the country on social media.