“There is no mystery in the large crowd at the funeral. Golam Azam was an infirm old man. The party knew that this was going to happen, and prepared for it. For a well-organised party like Jamaat, how difficult is it to pull off a crowd if you have months (if not years) to prepare for?”
Ghulam Azam: Crowd is not always good metric
by Jyoti Rahman for AlalODulal.org
The huge turnout at Golam Azam’s funeral has attracted attention – within Bangladesh and beyond. What does that number mean? What is behind these numbers, and what is the politics that is unfolding beyond the numbers that attended Golam Azam’s namaz-e-janaja in Dhaka, Chittagong and elsewhere?
Here are a few points to consider:
1. There is no mystery in the large crowd at the funeral. Golam Azam was an infirm old man. The party knew that this was going to happen, and prepared for it. For a well-organised party like Jamaat, how difficult is it to pull off a crowd if you have months (if not years) to prepare for? 3.2 million people voted for Jamaat in 2008. I would have expected each of them to be keen to attend the janaza. Seen from that perspective, the crowd actually was rather small.
2. Crowd is a very poor metric to judge anything political anywhere. Massive street protest etc may make good TV, but politics is more than that —this is a point we often forget. But anyone who has observed the street politics (of both left and right) of the past few years should not forget it. Crowd is a particularly poor metric to judge anything political in Bangladesh – remember Shahbag and Shapla chottor?
3. Government also knew that this was going to happen, and prepared for it. Contrast Awami League’s approach to Golam Azam funeral with Kader Molla’s. Kader Molla’s family was allowed to have a private funeral. If Awami League could enforce that in December 2013, with half the country shut down by hartal-andolon and so much uncertainty around the upcoming January 5 election, could they not have done something similar with Golam Azam? Jamaat could hold this large funeral because Awami League has allowed it. why? What’s the behind-the-scene politics here? Let’s keep in mind that only a few weeks ago, Sayedee was acquitted of charges carrying death sentence. Also note that there hasn’t been a single official word from BNP.
I would like to end with 2 speculations
1. I think we are finally seeing the Jamaat realignment that was temporarily set back by Shahbag. Golam Azam is gone. Very soon, Nizami and other 71 era figures will be gone too —biology. The next generation —Mir Qasim Ali and Barrister Razzaq and followers —who are less burdened by 71 could reboot the party. With the slow motion of death of BNP, there will be a niche market for a rebooted Jamaat. Awami League would very much prefer an Islamist opposition —easier to sell to the domestic and foreign establishment: it’s us or them mollahs….
2. But the above is by no means certain. The party could easily splinter. Like everything else in BD, there is a generational vacuum in Jamaat. MQA or Razzaq aren’t exactly young men. Also, the party is much weaker than most believed (something I have consistently argued for years). Jamaat couldn’t prevent Kader Molla’s hanging through street violence or international pressure. Its cadre force was simply overpowered by the state. its electoral weakness was made clear in 2008. Its international lobbying or alleged infiltration of the army has proved to be immaterial. Without the towering figures of Golam Azam-Nizami et al, Jamaat may well end up like dozens of left parties.