India-Bangladesh: The Threat of Revitalised Jama’at-ul-Mujahideen Bangladesh

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- Dr. Satish Kumar, Professor Political Science, IGNOU New Delhi
There are two major events taking place one, is the Golden Jubilee celebrations of Bangladesh Liberation from Pakistan and another is the state Assembly Election in West Bengal which is scheduled next month. Both events are under the scanner of Jihadi groups. India-Bangladesh relations are moving on a positive note since 2009. A number of agreements were being signed between the two countries. The successful initiatives have subsequently been completed to showcase a new model of bilateral relations between the two. Indian PM, Narendra Modi is going to Dhaka to commemorate an important moment in the subcontinent’s modern history. The Pakistan PM has denied to be a part of the celebration. There is distinctive differences visible in Pakistan and Bangladesh. The very impressive economic and social progress in Bangladesh is a source of inspiration. Bangladesh has frog lifted itself from being one of the world’s poorest countries in 1972, to be in the world’s top 25 economies by the end of this decade.
Bangladesh is a Muslim majority country and West Bengal is a Hindu majority state with Muslim majority districts along its border with Bangladesh. This border is long, porous and poorly managed, resulting in trans-border crime and the cross-border movement of terrorists. More than 30 per cent of the border areas are not fenced due to the difficult topography. Pakistan supported terrorist groups were always active in Bangladesh. Jama’at-ul-Mujahideen Bangladesh (JMB) is a fountainhead of jihadi in Bangladesh. The Narendra Modi government-designated Jamaat-ul-Mujahideen Bangladesh (JMB) as a terrorist group after intelligence inputs suggested that its leaders in Dhaka have joined hands with the Pakistan-based Lashkar-e-Tayebba (LeT) to expand the group’s activities in India. JMB’s chief Salaudin Salehin, through its official media “Al-Ehsar” has already announced the terror group’s India chapter. According to senior home ministry officials, the JMB had plans to make permanent bases within 10 km of the India-Bangladesh border (on the Indian side) in the districts of West Bengal, Assam and Tripura.
JMB used the ethnoreligious links to spread its jihadi channels in West Bengal and Assam. In several cases, JMB has used cross-border marriages to find shelter in West Bengal. Extremist publications have been produced by both IS and AQ in Bengali to mobilise Bengali Muslim youth in efforts to ‘liberate Kashmir’, ‘fight Hindutva’ and ‘establish an Islamic Caliphate in Hind’. Such declarations have been linked to the ‘Ghazwatul Hind’ prophetic narrative which talks of a final battle for the Indian subcontinent.
In July 2019, India’s State Minister for Home Affairs G Kishan Reddy accused Jama’at-ul-Mujahideen Bangladesh (JMB) of using some madrassas (religious schools) in West Bengal for radicalisation and recruitment activities. The claim came a week after Indian police arrested four members of the pro-Islamic State (IS) faction of JMB in West Bengal. The current west Bengal political system has created fertile grounds for a jihadi to extend its tentacles. The assembly elections preparedness proves the proximity of jihadis with the ruling party in West Bengal.
Muslims constitute 30 per cent of the West Bengal population and their votes are decisive on 100-110 of the 294 assembly seats, situated mostly in the districts of Kolkata, Murshidabad, Malda and Dinajpur. Mamata-led TMC had retained office in 2016 by winning 204 assembly constituencies with the crucial help of these Muslim-dominated seats. West Bengal’s state government has not been able to check the spread of radical and extremist ideologies. Critics accuse the Trinamul Congress (TMC) party is very soft on extremists because it looks at the Muslim community as a vote bank. The link with terror and TMC was proved in 2014 when an explosion occurred in a house in the Khagragarh locality of Burdwan, West Bengal. The police seized 55 improvised explosive devices, chemicals and equipment. The building was owned by Nurul Hasan Chowdhury, a TMC leader. The ground floor of the building had been used as a TMC party office and an election office in the past.
When a community is used as a vote bank, its social and economic developments get stalled. The same thing happened with the Muslim community in West Bengal. There is limited access to mainstream education in West Bengal’s Muslim majority districts. This void was filled by Madrassas that lacked accountability for and commitment to quality education. TMC has been accused of doing nothing to create access to mainstream education for Muslims. A large segment of the community therefore remains dependent on the madrassas, many of which are outside the oversight of the state. The mushrooming of Madrassas invited the jehadis to florish in the bordering districts with Bangladesh. The politics of Madrassas has linkages with jehadis.
Islamist militancy in eastern India has increasingly developed in the last two decades. The JMB started its Indian chapter in 2018. JMB originated from the sub-group of a local Salafi movement known as the Ahle Hadis. They have followers in both Bangladesh and West Bengal. In 2018, JMB opened a new wing in India — Jama’atul Mujahideen India (JMI). The group proclaimed its belief in qital, armed struggle to ‘uproot polytheism and establish Islam’. It also claimed that the Indian subcontinent is a future battlefield to establish the Caliphate as per the Ghazwatul Hind prophecy. The Indian chapter could be used to recruit from the Muslim community in West Bengal and to send them to various parts of India for fundraising and operations.
The same terror outfits are active in Assam, another Indian state which faced the heat of illegal migrants from Bangladesh. NIA collected the information and compiled the report that prove the presence of some functionaries affiliated to Neo-Jamaat-ul-Mujahideen Bangladesh (Neo-JMB) at different locations on the north bank of the Brahmputra river in the state and north Bengal. Neo-JMB is a breakaway faction of the old JMB in Bangladesh but linked with global terror outfits such as the Islamic State. It came into focus after the terror attack at the Holey Artisan restaurant in Dhaka in July 2016 that killed 20 people. There are others differences between the JMB and Neo-JMB. The new outfit has a large number of English educated operatives from affluent families as its members. The group has also enrolled many women in its ranks. They route through educational institutions and span in other civil society organizations. The funding is made through the same channels.
Therefore, the Golden Jubilee celebration is also under the scanner of Jehadi in Bangladesh. The opposition parties are looking for opportune moments to distract the Indo-Bangladesh high speed train. The same threats exist in India. The opposition parties are lying behind TMC to feed the terror groups in West Bengal and Assam. TMC has never liked the cementing ties with Bangladesh. An attempt has been made by TMC in the past. During the UPA government Mamta Banerjee tried to pull the chain. But PM Modi chose to fully back the agreement and mobilized enough political support to get it approved by the Parliament. ‘Modi also backed an international tribunal’s award resolving the maritime territorial dispute with Bangladesh. According to C.Raja Mohan the steady improvement in bilateral relations over the last decade has reflected in growing trade volumes, expanding trans-border connectivity, mutual cooperation on terrorism, and widening regional cooperation. Modi was right to proclaim a golden age in bilateral relations.’ But this golden age needs to be safeguarded from jehadi threats. The challenges are two folds in both the countries. First to fight against the opposition parties which do not want a strong bilateral ties between the two countries and another fight to dismantle the mushrooming terrorist outfits from the respective countries.