We are plunged into a deep crisis no matter what

Afsan Chowdhury
Published : 6 April 2013, 03:03 PM
Updated : 6 April 2013, 03:03 PM

Thanks to the strange behaviour of the Government, we have seen the birth of a new political force in Bangladesh called Hifazat-e Islam. It didn't exist a couple of months back but from nowhere has become a force that no one can ignore now. It didn't need bloggers and Facebook posts to become a source of power but through a general mobilization. They clearly had a plan for long which was put into operation quite effectively. The Government gave permission to come to Dhaka and hold a rally at Motijheel which is the symbol of a push for power. The efforts of some of the groups like Ghatak Dalal Nirmul Committee, Ganajagaran Mancha, Sangsktrikik Jote, etc. to stop them was at best pathetic. A rally was attacked and put on the run and the brazen impunity with which they attacked their opponents including media staff was a sign that they don't care. Media members were beaten up and called 'dalals' and 'nastiks', an AL activist was killed and many clashes are reported. Even the police Commissioner was pelted with bottles. So what happens next?

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No matter what we are plunged into a crisis. The activities of Hifazat-e Islam have put a big question mark on the ability of the government to manage the situation. It allowed the Hifazat to hold a rally which has now become an advertisement of the clout of Islamic politics in Bangladesh.  The government as a counter move, allowed its "supporters network" to observe strikes to prevent them from entering Dhaka though they said that they were observing a strike because the Government was doing nothing.  This counter plan was so amateurish that it defies understanding. The Hifazat simply imported its supporters the day before and made a mockery of the official efforts and displayed their grassroots ability to mobilize rivals. If you are not on the Hifazat side, it's time to feel a bit worried.

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Most people think that the Hifazat is supported by the Jamaat-e-Islami which they have denied again but listening to the Charter of Demands, it's difficult to understand on which part they differ from the Jamaat-e-Islami. All their demands echo that of the JI including the anti-Ahmadiya tirade so even if they claim to be different organizationally, in spirit and essence they are brothers in arms. And now the two have united if they are not one already and they have even pulled in the cousin such as the BNP and the Jatiya Party into this and it does look like the first showdown has been held and JI looked very good, scary as it may seem to many. If the government wished to impress with its 24-allies strike it didn't work and the few that sat and sang songs at Shahbagh on this day looked rather lost.

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What seems strange is that many people are reading this as a crisis generated by the activities of some bloggers identified as 'atheists'. This is probably the most ridiculous part of the entire space because had that been an issue, many such movements would have risen before. In fact the bloggers had been at it for quite a while but nobody talked about it as it was a matter of small circle of urban youth. What changed the equation was the politics of Shahabagh which was outside the AL radius. By challenging the court verdict, Shahbagh went beyond the legal and constitutional space and by doing so helped create a huge battleground where just about anything goes and where the Government want to go. The subsequent attack and counter attack by the activists and the police also showed that the authorities had no real plan while the JI had even developed an alliance with Hifazat if not birthed it. The disturbing part of this is that they challenged the Government and have gotten away with it.

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What Shahbagh and Hifazat-e Islam have in common is the rejection of the rule of law. Shahbagh rejected a court verdict and the government rushed to appease them, scared that it would be seen as not being pro-Liberation enough. The result was a new law to allow appeal for the prosecution against court sentences passed by the WCT and prosecution of political parties for war crimes. It didn't seem like the behaviour of a confident government as Shahbagh ran full force. The demand for a ban on Jamaat was obviously going to trigger reaction but the government hardly seemed prepared to tackle such a massive security operation.

The Hifazat-e Islam also rejected the constitution and said it was 'full of atheism' and at the end of the rally called the Government an "atheist government". A few days back it even called for the PM's arrest. For a party not known for tolerance, its ignoring of such calls are mysterious. And can anyone get away by verbally abusing the constitution? If things don't happen, one will have to assume that one can. There are not many boundaries left now.

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All this has left most people wondering what's going on. The AL seems to appease Shahbagh in one breathe and then look the other way as the Hifazat-e Islam abuses them directly. Obviously the government is trying to keep all its fronts peaceful but can it when the enemy is getting stronger each day?

It shouldn't please others though because if things get more out of control, anything may happen. The actions of all the parties together have contributed to the unsettled situation and it doesn't matter who is the trigger when something out of control explodes.

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Afsan Chowdhury is a journalist, activist and writer.

Toufique Imrose Khalidi
Editor-in-Chief and Publisher