The two most discussed violations of minority rights in recent times occurred in Nasirnagar and Govindaganj. In one of the cases, homes of Hindus were attacked, temples vandalised and people attacked. The other was in Govindganj where the homes of santal adivasis were torched and they were evicted.
In the first case, it was completely a result of inner-party conflict of the Awami league. In case of Govindaganj, the matter was even more scary as video evidence showed that it was the police who were committing arson.
In none of the cases, were any Islamist organization involved whether Hefazot of Jamaat or Jongis. Our secular as well as official forces are quite capable of inflicting pain and suffering on minorities and the majority. We don’t need Islamists to do so.
The Hefazot puzzle
The recent debate around Hefazot began when they turned up in Dhaka for a sit –in in 2013 which the BNP-JI combo tried to use for their own objective of toppling the AL government. However, this was tackled by the Hasina government and the table was turned on its enemies. Hasina didn’t punish the Hefazotis and instead became their ally. In fact, large grants were made to the Qaumi madrassa system even in the heyday of the 2013 sit-in by the Government. Thus Hasina has always viewed Hefazot as a limited threat.
Hefazot is a social organisation with an ambition to be politically influential but not as a part. It represents the new rural middle class in general and the qaumi madrassa in particular. It neither has a political structure nor any plan for the moment but AL would like to use them for whatever it is worth to neutralize any residual or emerging Jamaat influence or any BNP links which brought them attention in the first place.
Some contemporary realities will influence the decision making obviously such as the rise of ‘Islamist’ sections in society including Jongis but socio-economic realities have also changed. The rural middle and upper classes have always been into religious ceremonies, and sentiments just as urban middle are into serials. True, the inherent potential for totalitarianism is always there but that requires both society and economics. None of that exists in Bangladesh.
The anxiety about the High Court statue is understood because it has become the symbol of the supposed fight between ‘secular’ and “Islamist” forces. It’s thought the Government is siding with the Hefazotis but this analysis dilutes the status of the Government which is firmly in charge through its total control of the law enforcement agencies and the military. Can Hefazot survive if it becomes a threat to the AL?
The 2019 issue
What the Government is trying to do is reduce distraction elsewhere while it counters BNP-JI. Though weakened, BNP continues to exert influence in the polls and Comilla Pourashava election is a good example of that. AL has such high stakes in its regime that it can’t afford to consider being out of power.
This is not the first time that AL has done deals with Islamists and more are possible. As the days of transfer of power without upheavals are limited it’s safer to be in power as long as possible. And in an election, AL wants to be as sure as possible.
So AL wants to be free to focus on BNP without having to worry about social unrest, which Hefazot may trigger, however little. Padma Bridge construction, infrastructure projects, Chinese investment etc are not likely to be risked by standing for the protection of a symbolic statue in front of the High Court.
AL is trying to mend fences and indulge as many forces as possible as long as it doesn’t have to make a deal with the BNP. To Hasina, BNP is the party of her father and family’s killers and so it’s not just a political issue. So actions will follow suit.
Hefazot should pray that it has the sense to stay non-political and that BNP consumes all the energy of the AL. For a government that continues to battle for total supremacy at the polls, AL is aware that defeating BNP is not enough. It must win well in 2019. A statue or a pact with Hefazot are minor matters compared to what is at stake.