After coming in third place in both the Dhaka North and South elections in 2015 and winning 10 times as many votes as the Jatiya Party in the Khulna City elections this year, Islami Andolon Bangladesh has quietly made its mark in Bangladesh’s politics. The Dhaka Tribune takes a closer look
Barisal-based pir, or spiritual leader, late Maolana Syed Muhammad Fazlul Karim, commonly known as Charmonair Pir, established the party Islami Shasontontro Andolon on March 13, 1987 with a view to establishing an Islamic law-based state.
The name however was changed to Islami Andolon Bangladesh after the Election Commission disagreed to allow registration under this name.
Founder Fazlul Karim wanted to build an issue-based common platform for Islamic movement, comprising all Islamic parties and religious-minded people of Bangladesh.
Karim, who was a believer in the Khelafat state system, tried to establish an Islamic country throughout his life till his death in 2006.
IAB has been making continuous progress in local polls over the past three years.
They came under the spotlight in election politics after their candidates earned the third largest number of votes in Dhaka north and south, Narayanganj and Khulna city polls. The most surprising part in their voting politics is that their candidate has bagged about 10 times as many votes than the candidate of parliamentary opposition Jatiya Party in the Khulna City Corporation election in May.
Who votes for them?
The IAB top leaders estimate they have around 20 million followers with a strong base in Bagerhat, Khulna and Barisal.
One of their key strengths is that the followers of Charmonair Pir from every part of the country support their activities and vote for them to set up Islamic rule.
Imtiaz Alam, president of Dhaka South city unit of Islami Andolon, said that party’s top leaders Syed Rezaul Karim and Syed Faizul Karim are very optimistic about getting votes from each and every follower of Charmaoair Pir.
“We have plans to ensure one crore votes in the upcoming 11th parliamentary elections,” he said.
The party leaders think they have a vote bank of about 30,000 from Khulna city alone, where it showed a strong performance beating the JaPa mayor candidate.
In the Khulna City Corporation election, held on May 15, 2018, IAB candidate bagged 14,363 votes, compared to a mere 1,500 votes received by the Jatiya Party candidate.
In 2015, Islami Andolan leader Sheikh Fazle Bari Masud won 18,050 votes, the third highest number in Dhaka North City Corporation. Meanwhile, in Dhaka South a leader of the same organization, Abdur Rahman, also bagged the thirrd highest vote count, reaching 14,784.
Islami Andolon also bagged a large number of votes in Narayanganj city, with their mayor candidate Masum Billah coming up third with 13,914 votes.
The poll results clearly show that the party, out of the 10 registered religion-based parties in Bangladesh, is in a leading position.
Their position as allies
Of all the Islamic parties, IAB, led by Syed Muhammad Rezaul Karim, has drawn the attention of Awami League and BNP as a potential ally because of their sharp rise in popularity among voters, as demonstrated in elections.
After Khulna city election, politicians have started giving the sudden rise of Islami Andolon more thought. Though the party is far from being a serious challenger for the two major parties, their popularity among voters is rising, say some analysts.
Islami Andolon leaders claimed that they will also get huge number of votes in the upcoming Gazipur city election.
Imtaiz Alam told the Dhaka Tribune that the Charmonair Pir has great influence among Gazipur voters and their candidate will get at least 50,000 votes in the upcoming Gazipur city corporation election.
In May 2016, IAB candidate Ala Uddin Alal won the Aditmari union parishad election in Kamlabari upazila of Lalmonirhat district, the first election victory for this party.
What is their strength and what do they want?
Talking to the Dhaka Tribune, Islami Andolon’s Ameer and Charmonair Peer Mufti Syed Muhammad Rezaul Karim said the party wants to establish Islamic rule in Bangladesh.
“We want Islamic rule in Bangladesh. We are willing to form a coalition with parties who will accept our proposal for an Islamic country,” said Karim.
He added that they have also a plan to form a coalition with like-minded parties.
Islami Andolon has organizational activities across the country. Its founder late Fazlul Karim was a popular and well-accepted figure. He set up organizational units in all 64 districts. Also Islami Andolon has a committee in every upazila of the country.
According to Islami Andolon leaders, their political activities are different from those of other Islamic parties. They are always active on the street with different programs such as protesting Israel’s aggression against Palestine and others issues related with Islamic ideology.
Their presence in the streets, on almost every Friday, was common in 2017 with two demands - removal of all the idols in Bangladesh along with the statue of Lady Justice that was installed before the annex building of the Supreme Court, and the atrocities against Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar’s Rakhine State.
Plan for next general polls
With the national polls scheduled for December approaching fast, the party is preparing to contest all 300 constituencies.
Islami Andolon has already selected 229 candidates for the next general election and the rest would be selected within a very short time, party sources said.
However, Islami Andolon leaders said their goal for now is to increase the number of voters rather than winning a seat.
Their role in major events
On April 16 2017, Islami Andolon demanded removal of Greek Idol from Supreme Court premises as well as resignation of the then Chief Justice Surendra Kumar Sinha.
In the 2001 national election, Islami Andolon contested as an ally of Jatiya Party. But in 2008, the party contested by itself in 167 constituencies where it got 1.05% of total votes.
In 1996, Islami Andolon and other Islamic parties formed a coalition and took part in the election after taking Islami Okiya Jote’s ‘Minar’ symbol.