The Islamist parties are going through various polarisations ahead of the upcoming national polls. The process is underway to form an alliance with 15-20 parties who are on good terms with the ruling Awami League. All of these are Islamist parties.

There is also another initiative to form an alliance with the Qawmi madrasah-based parties, led by the Islami Andolan Bangladesh, the party of Charmonai Pir. These may include parties outside of the Islamist parties.

Only eight months are left before the general elections. Ruling Awami League and their political allies have started preparations for another election under Sheikh Hasina’s government in compliance with the constitution of the country.

On the other hand, the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) and other opposition parties are in a movement demanding an election under a non-partisan government. In this context, the Islamist parties have become proactive. Many of the leaders of these Islamist parties say their activities may increase further in the coming months. Awami League too has adopted different strategies to keep them close.

Islami Andolon’s initiative for a new alliance

The Islami Andolon Bangladesh has been trying to forge an alliance, including Qawmi madrasah-based Islamist parties and non-Islamist parties over the last few months. However, nothing has been finalised yet.

According to sources in the party, their main target is to form an alliance of Qawmi madrasah-based parties. They also want to include parties outside the Islamist parties in the alliance. However, several leaders of the parties under this initiative are concerned whether this move will displease the government. Therefore, they are taking time before finalising anything.

Islami Andolon’s presidium member Ashraf Ali Khokon said that their party is busy with the city elections at the moment. After that, they will try to proceed with their initiative to form an alliance.

Initiative of parties close to ruling party

The Islamic Democratic Alliance, a coalition of 15 parties close to the Awami League, was formed in 2017. Bangladesh Islami Oikya Jote chairman Misbahur Rahman Chowdhury was the main leader of this alliance.  MA Awal, former leader of Bangladesh Tarikat Federation, was the co-chairman of the alliance.  However, it doesn’t exist anymore.

Three of these parties joined an alliance with Bikalpa Dhara ahead of the general election of 2018. MA Awal was the leader of the remaining 11 parties in the alliance.

Later, MA Awal served a long prison term after being convicted in a murder case. He has formed another party named Islamic Democratic Party after being released on bail. He is now in talks with Bangladesh Islami Oikya Jote and Islamic front regarding a new alliance. They are also in discussion with Trinamul BNP formed by late Nazmul Huda. They are trying to announce the new alliance by the end of this month.

Several leaders involved in this initiative said that they started the initiative after getting a green signal from the Awami League. Misbahur Rahman has been a close ally of Awami League since 2008.

Speaking to Prothom Alo, he said, “We have a meeting on Thursday. The outline of the alliance will be finalised in the meeting. The official announcement will come after that. Our strategy will depend on BNP’s participation in the election.”

Jatiya Party is another option

Late Hussain Muhammad Ershad formed an alliance including 59 parties outside the Awami League and BNP ahead of the national polls in 2018. Most of the parties under this alliance were Islamist parties. The name of this alliance was Sammilita Jatiya Jote. Hussain Muhammad Ershad died within one and half years of the election and with that the alliance collapsed.

The Jatiya Party has not yet declared that they will remain an ally of Awami League in the upcoming election. However, the policymakers of the ruling party believe that JaPa will eventually take part in the election in consensus with Awami League.

According to the sources in Awami League, the government is considering to eventually group JaPa with the Islamist parties, including Zaker Party.

However, Jatiya Party chairman GM Quader told Prothom Alo that they want to form an effective alliance this time, not anything like the ‘grand alliance’ they formed before the 2018 general election.

The Islamist parties

Among the 40 parties, which are registered with the Election Commission, 10 are Islamist parties. Six of these are Qawmi madrasah-based parties. These parties are – Islami Andolon, Islami Oikyajot, Khelafat Majlish, Khelafat Andolon, Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam and Bangladesh Khelafat Majlish. Five of these parties, except the Islami Andolon, are affiliated with Hefazat-e-Islam Bangladesh. These five parties were once part of the alliance led by BNP. They have left this alliance under pressure.

Apart from these, parties of the Tarikat camp include Tarikat Federation, Islamic Front Bangladesh and Bangladesh Islami Front. These parties are longtime allies of the ruling Awami League.

Awami League strategy

Home minister Asaduzzaman Khan has been seen present at events of various Islamist parties. Speaking to Prothom Alo, he said, "Awami League used to have poor relations with Islamic parties. The Islamic parties felt Awami League did not care for religion. But they are seeing the opposite now. Awami League is doing a lot for Islam."

As elections approach, Islamic parties became important to the two major parties, Awami League and BNP. Upholding their interests and due to other factors, these parties tend to lean towards the ruling party. This time is no exception, political analysts say.

*This report appeared on the print and online versions of Prothom Alo and has been rewritten in English by Ashish Basu