AL-bigots electoral deal stuns allParty faces protest from within; allies threaten to split unless pact scrappedStaff Correspondent
Awami League (AL) faces severe criticism from its 13 allies who yesterday said the party must scrap its Saturday's controversial deal with Bangladesh Khelafat Majlish (BKM) that shattered the promise of secularism or face a split.
AL General Secretary Abdul Jalil Saturday signed a five-point memorandum of understanding (MoU) with BKM. AL promised that certified Alems (Islamic clerics) will have the right to issue fatwas (Islamic religious edicts) if the grand electoral alliance comes to power through the upcoming election.
The other points of the MoU include promises to impose a bar on enacting any law that goes against Quranic values, initiation of steps for proper implementation of the initiative for government recognition of the degrees awarded by Qaumi Madrasas, and a ban on criticisms of Prophet Muhammad.
The signing took place in the Azimpur residence of BKM Chairman Allama Azizul Haque on Saturday in a sequel to an AL attempt to bring BKM into the fold of the grand alliance.
Even a large majority of AL central and grassroots members, just as a cross-section of socio-political organisations and people of all spectrum, were deeply shocked by the party's sudden and inexplicable decision. Many of them feel it will prove a hara-kiri for the party in the election.
The disgruntled 13 parties of the so-called grand alliance last night forced a delegation led by AL General Secretary Abdul Jalil to meet Sheikh Hasina with a demand to scrap the deal. They clearly hinted a split as they feel it will be difficult for them to go along with the AL with such controversial and anti-secular stances.
"We won't accept this five-point MoU under any circumstances," JSD President Hasanul Haq Inu told The Daily Star at 12.30am today, who was waiting at Jalil's house to know the outcome of the delegation's meeting with Hasina.
The 13 partner parties feel all the more ridiculed as Hasina in less than 24 hours of the MoU signing sought 'blessings' of all to build Bangladesh as a 'secular democratic' country.
But as the public outrage poured in, the AL first tried to deny signing of any such agreement, suggesting that it was all a hoax fanned by some 'vested quarter' with an ulterior motive using the media. But as copies of the signed agreement circulated around, Jalil finally said he signed 'only a MoU and not any agreement'.
All the components of AL-led 14-party coalition --11-party, Jatiya Samajtantrik Dal (JSD) and National Awami Party (NAP) -- in separate news releases yesterday condemned the deal and demanded that AL cancels the deal immediately to maintain its conformity to the 23-point common national minimum programme of the coalition, which includes a promise to ban religion based politics.
But, AL, which was supposed to give a formal clarification regarding the matter, did not provide any till 9:00pm last night.
Abdul Jalil yesterday said, "It is not a contract. It is a memorandum of understanding," adding, "It is an understanding based on an election strategy."
Talking to a private television channel, Jalil said, "Ordinary people, especially villagers, are weak on the issue of fatwa. If educated alem-ulemas, who are knowledgeable on matters of religion, issue fatwas or directions, those will be better than the ones issued by uneducated persons."
Defining a fatwa, Jalil said, "A decision on any issue is a fatwa," adding, "There is a very wrong interpretation of it in this country. If we can escape that interpretation, then we can have control over fatwas so that no one can issue a fatwa on a whim."
"AL is against those rural fatwas that order whipping of people or public humiliation of women," Jalil said.
Talking to The Daily Star a number of AL presidium members, leaders of its central working committee (ALCWC), and its city, district and upazila level leaders expressed their utter shock over the agreement.
AL Presidium Member Tofail Ahmed rather angrily said he was not aware of the MoU.
Another Presidium Member Suranjit Sengupta said, "It's a hoax! What I have seen in newspapers is baseless."
AL President Sheikh Hasina's Political Secretary Saber Hossain Chowdhury said, "We have not and will not compromise our secular ideal and stance."
Many former lawmakers of AL also told The Daily Star yesterday that they feel ashamed because of the agreement. They also said they might quit the party if the MoU is not cancelled immediately.
"If our party allows Islamic fundamentalist practices like fatwas after 35 years of liberation then what is wrong with forging an alliance with anti-liberation Jamaat," one of the frustrated leaders of ALCWC told The Daily Star.
"The understanding was signed between Awami League and us as it is in the press statement," BKM Organising Secretary Humayan Kabir told The Daily Star last night. The MoU was read out at the meeting between AL and BKM, he said adding that the AL general secretary and their secretary general both signed on the MoU after listening to the points of the understanding that had been read out.
Sources in AL said the MoU was signed keeping most of the top leaders of the party in the dark. Party insiders said AL presidium members Sheikh Fazlul Karim Selim and Kazi Zafarullah, Adviser to Sheikh Hasina Salman F Rahman, and AL leaders Sheikh Helal and Abul Hasnat Abdullah however knew about the move for the agreement.
Zafarullah told The Daily Star that their MoU with BKM was misinterpreted by newspapers. "We have reached an agreement with them that no one will be able to issue a fatwa except authorised persons or institutions," said the AL leader.
Sources however said the agreement was signed following a faction of top AL leaders' initiative to bring different Islamic political parties, which largely depend on donations from a few Islamic countries, into the fold of the grand alliance.
The faction also succeeded in bringing several Islamic political parties into the grand alliance, some of which secured several nominations also.
14-PARTY COMPONETS PROTEST
AL-led 14-party coalition's one of the major component, 11-party, yesterday held an emergency meeting in the Workers Party office in the capital.
The meeting termed the MoU signed between AL and BKM 'inconsistent' with the principal spirit of AL and hoped that it will pullout of the MoU to uphold secular and democratic spirit and to vanquish BNP-Jamaat alliance.
The meeting observed that the five-point deal do not conform with 14-party coalition's 23-point common national minimum programme which emphasises on elimination of religious bigotry and communalism from every level of the government and administration for establishing a democratic and secular country.
The MoU also does not conform with the points of the coalition's minimum programme that promise court trials of war criminals, banning of communal politics and its propagation, putting an end to religious intervention, and ensuring freethinking as well as freedom of speech, the meeting observed.
Workers Party President Rashed Khan Menon said they will give their complete reaction after consulting with AL leaders on the issue.
JSD also held an emergency meeting to protest the deal. The meeting said the secular and non-communal people of the country will not accept the five-point deal.
Gono Forum said the deal dismayed the people. Gonotontri Party said the MoU will put a dent in the spirit of the war of liberation.