Dr Kamal having a tough time answering ‘Jamaat question’
When Dr Kamal Hossain took it upon himself to forge a greater unity between BNP and Jatiya Oikya Prokria, a consortium of progressive political parties which he leads, he probably preferred putting the Jamaat issue on the back burner.
But if the December 14 hiccup is something to go by, Dr Kamal and his Oikya Front caravan of largely pro-liberation forces are now being haunted by the Jamaat contention.
There is good reason for newsmen to ask Kamal ‘unpleasant’ questions about his position on Jamaat-e-Islami, the Islamist party whose leaders were convicted of crimes against humanity during the Liberation War of 1971.
Long after his alliance forging an electoral unity with BNP, the latter shared its popular ‘sheaf of paddy’ poll symbol with as many as 22 Jamaat candidates running for office in the December 30 parliamentary polls.
As opposed to Jamaat’s 22, all the ‘big names’ from Kamal-led Oikya Front (sans BNP) got only 19 seats to run with BNP’s poll symbol. These include leaders from Gono Forum, Nagorik Oikya, and Jatiya Samajtantrik Dal.
When Dr Kamal’s alliance-building initiative brought BNP into the Oikya Front fold, BNP did not bring Jamaat along. But it successfully kept intact its long-tested strategic alliance with Jamaat within the 20-party unity that BNP traditionally leads. As such, there was no apparent ‘discomfort’ about the anti-liberation Jamaat issue among Dr Kamal-led Oikya Prokria leaders.
But now that BNP is simultaneously sharing its “sheaf of paddy” with progressive leaders of Gono Forum and JSD (Rab) on the one hand and Jamaat leaders on the other, leaders like Dr Kamal and ASM Rab, names tied to the nation’s Liberation War and progressive movements, are facing a hard time tackling a volley of questions.
Though it is necessary for BNP to muster as many votes as possible from the political “left,” “right,” and “centre,” by balancing alliances with both Jamaat and Kamal-led parties, the Jamaat baggage has now become a big liability for other Oikya Front leaders.
BNP insiders earlier explained that despite pressures from different quarters, they failed to cut ties with Jamaat because of Jamaat’s formidable vote bank.
Because of the vote bank, Jamaat will continue to be a part of the 20-party alliance, but will not be given a place in the broader coalition, they explained.
In an exclusive interview with Dhaka Tribune, Gono Forum president Dr Kamal Hossain last month said he did not need to concern himself about Jamaat and his alliance being on the same platform.
“The possibility that our candidates and Jamaat candidates will contest under the same symbol in the general election did not cross my mind, because we were told that Jamaat had no connection with the BNP, which we have tied up with. We created this platform based on that belief,” he said.
Pro-BNP intellectual Dr Zafarullah Chowdhury argued that the Oikya Front and BNP earlier agreed not to keep Jamaat in the broader electoral alliance, but no agreement was made on how the symbols would be allocated.
“Jamaat representatives are not included in any meeting or discussion of Jatiya Oikya Front. It was on BNP how they would share seats and the symbol with its alliance partners. However, we had expected Jamaat to join the race using some other symbol,” said Zafarullah, also a trustee of Gonoshasthaya Kendra.
“The symbol does not matter because it does not represent much. It is on BNP now how it will deal with 20-party alliance partners, but it is clear that the Jamaat and Oikya Front are not under the same umbrella,” claimed Zafarullah.
BNP standing committee member Amir Khasru Mahmud Chowdhury also thinks that simply using the same election symbol, does not put Jamaat and Oikya Front on the same platform.
“BNP is in Oikya Front alone as a party and therefore there is no connection between Oikya Front and our 20-party alliance partners,” said Khasru.
Gono Forum Executive President Subrata Chowdhury said BNP promised the Oikya Front that it would never include Jamaat in the broader alliance because of Dr Kamal Hossain’s serious reservations about anti-liberation forces.
“And they kept their promises too. But since we did not talk about symbol allocation beforehand, we have nothing much to say as it is BNP's matter how they will distribute the paddy sheaf with its alliance members,” said Subrata, also Dhaka 6 candidate for Jatiya Oikya Front, who is also competing in the polls using the BNP ‘sheaf of paddy’ symbol.
“Jamaat was allowed to use the BNP symbol by BNP, but using the same symbol does not mean that the front and Jamaat are on the same platform,” he claimed.
Senior journalist and political analyst Afsan Chowdhury said the symbol is not a major concern now, since Jamaat does not have registration and has to contest the polls using the BNP symbol.
“No matter who is using what symbol, the point is to see the goals of the parties and that is where the media lacks in interest,” he added.
What brings the issue to the forefront?
Jatiya Oikya Front chief Dr Kamal Hossain on December 14 blasted journalists when he was asked about his stance on Jamaat-e-Islami, which had openly opposed Bangladesh’s independence from Pakistan in 1971.
The eminent jurist, who also heads Gono Forum, has always said he would never side with Jamaat.
On Friday, when journalists asked where he stood on the fact that Jamaat-affiliated individuals were able to contest the upcoming polls only because of their association with Oikya Front through BNP, Dr Kamal angrily replied: “These questions should not arise at all. You [journalists] are saying useless things. How much have you been paid to ask these questions? Who paid you?”
Later, on Saturday, Dr Kamal Hossain issued a statement sincerely regretting his sharp reaction to the reporter, saying: “If my words hurt anyone, I sincerely regret this.”