Wednesday, June 02, 2010
By Amir Mateen

MANSURA: Jamaat-e-Islami’s fundamental issue has been how to remain ‘pious’ and yet be popular or how to remain ideologically correct and yet follow the dictates of pragmatic politics. Simply put, it boils to one thing: how to remain an Islamic party and yet win elections.

The Jamaat old guard has always reacted whenever it has overly digressed from its original agenda of social reform and Islamic revivalism to power politics. The Jamaat in the first decade of its existence remained, as Vali Reza writes, “a movement immersed in religious work; it strove to control the souls of men and eyed politics with awe and suspicion.” Politics was the last of its priorities and could not be indulged in without the ‘purification’ of individuals, leaders and the society. In later years, political compromises were tolerated in the hope that they might bring electoral victory. Power could then be used to Islamize the society— ends justifying the means.

Power remains an elusive dream. All Jamaat Ameers had to face reaction from the party whenever they failed to deliver victory in crucial elections. Twice it led to major defections in Jamaat; thrice it resulted in the change of top leadership.

Jamaat’s founder Maulana Maududi had to confront a virtual revolt in Maachi Goth near Rahimyar Khan in 1956. The issue was initially over alleged irregularities in the Jamaat bureaucracy but turned into a row whether the Jamaat should confine itself to Islamic revivalism or get into electoral politics.

JI had lost the 1951 Punjab elections badly. The late Dr Israr Ahmad, among others, contended that Maulana Maududi had opposed contesting the 1945 elections in the United India because, the party was told, the Jamaat stood for “social reform and Islamic revivalism and not for political gains.”

The issue led to a defection of about 56 senior members which comprised the cream of Jamaat including former acting Ameer Abdul Ghafaar Hassan and Dr Israr Ahmad. The most prominent of them all was Amin Ahsan Islahi, whose respect and scholarly credentials were not less than of Maududi. He is survived by his known disciple Javed Ghamdi these days. Maududi’s detractors claimed that the Maulana deliberately let the defectors go to strengthen his hold on the Jamaat.

The conflict between the Islamic ideology and pragmatic politics continued to trouble the Jamaat. Maududi’s support for ‘woman’ Fatima Jinnah in 1965 elections, justified as a “lesser evil” against Ayub Khan, was a major compromise. Kausar Niazi wrote against that extensively and was thus expelled from the Jamaat.

The biggest shock was the 1970 elections. The Jamaat hoped to win with a landslide; Asghar Khan’s party was seen as the runner up and the PPP not considered even as a major contestant. The Jamaat won four of the 151 National Assembly seats it contested and four provincial Assemblies seats out of 331 it aimed for. It did not win a single seat in East Pakistan. Much to its embarrassment, the Jamaat also finished behind its religious rivals, Jamiat Ulema-i-Pakistan (JUP) and Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam (JUI). Mufti Mahmood’s JUI mustered enough provincial seats to make coalition governments with National Awami Party in the then NWFP and Balochistan.

The Jamaat was shattered and Maududi’s leadership was questioned. Ironically, the tirade against Maududi was led by none other than a young firebrand who is now the Ameer of Jamaat, Munawar Hassan. The ‘Young Turks’ argued that the Jamaat leadership was no match to the charisma of PPP’s Zulfiqar Bhutto and Awami League’s Sheikh Mujib. It was a hint for Maududi to give way to a new leader. Maududi suffered a mild heart attack and stepped down as Ameer on 17 February, 1972. The Jamaat elected Mian Mohammad Tufail-hardly the charismatic leader that the new generation of the Jamaat was looking for. At best, he was an administrator and an old guard loyalist.

Such was Maududi’s stature that the political battle for 25 years remained between him and the rest of the liberal forces. That is, until Zulfikar Bhutto came along who changed the front into a fight between the PPP and the rest. The Jamaat’s anathema against the PPP was such that it thought it had found in dictator Ziaul Haq the long awaited messiah who would deliver them not only the dream of Islamic revivalism but also the short cut to power.

Zia exploited the Jamaat misconceptions to the hilt. He got the Jamaat join his government; used its street power to counter the PPP and its cadres in Afghanistan’s jihad. The biggest dent that Zia rendered to the Jamaat was by corrupting its hard core. The entire right-wing corps of Jamaat writers were corrupted first through free pilgrimages, then plots, perks and lavish privileges. This rightist ‘intellectual vanguard’ moved on to the centre stage ‘lures’ of Nawaz Sharif and from there to successive rulers who catered to their wish lists. Some of the biggest rightist icons of their times are seen on TV channels rendering their services to anybody who bids the highest.

Mian Tufail, incidentally from Zia’s Araain biradri, felt reaction for overly siding with the dictator. The pressure grew when the Jamaat won only ten seats out of its quota of 68 National Assembly seats in the 1985 non-party elections.

He gave way for Qazi Hussain Ahmad to be elected as Ameer in 1987. Qazi Hussain was Jamaat’s liaison with the army on Afghan Jihad but he distanced himself from Zia in later years. He became the first, and to date the last, Ameer to become the member of the Parliament. His populist style and call for the restoration of democracy gave hope to the younger Jamaat workers of making it to the mainstream politics. He energized the Jamaat by taking up popular issues and slogans like the ‘Qazi aa raha hai’ brand. He made Jamaat inroads in Pukhtunkhwa’s belt where Maududi, after Deoband fatwas of 1951, was considered outside the fold of Islam.

But nothing seemed to work. The Jamaat remained on the fringes of politics. Qazi faced intense criticism when the Jamaat lost the 1993 elections under the Pakistan Islamic Front umbrella. A whole group led by Naeem Siddiqui left the party. Qazi resigned but was later forced to continue as Ameer. Finally, after successive defeats he gave up the Jamaat leadership without sorting out the ‘zaalims’ last year. The responsibility for the electoral miracle to happen rests with Munawar Hassan now.

They say Maududi died a sad man. He is on record having regretted towards the end of his life that the Jamaat should have remained a holy community and not become a political party. Begum Maududi quoted him lamenting that the Jamaat gave away too much in politics without gaining enough in return. “If I had the stamina I would have started all over again,” his wife quotes him saying in a published interview. Wasi Mazhar Nadvi documents that Maududi in his last address to the shura in 1976 advised the Jamaat “to move away from politics and to revive the holy community; for elections had proved not only to be a dead end but also debilitating. His advice was largely ignored.”

Jamaat’s critics might say that they may have lost on the issue of religion as well as pragmatic politics. It is ironic that Amin Ahsan Islahi, who parted ways on the issue that the Jamaat’s role should confine to social and religious reform (deeni khidmat), has his disciple Javed Ghamdi still doing that. Jamaat may not have proved its point by adopting the worldly (dunyavi) path of politics. It is yet to be seen how Munawar Hassan will do where his seniors faltered-accomplish a simultaneous victory in the world of the ideology and pragmatic politics. The task is onerous.