The departure of the Hifazat-e Islam from Dhaka which they threatened to take over overnight after an evening and night of violence also means that they were overestimated, had no plans, caught in the crossfire of national politics and ultimately looked like a bunch of fools as they surrendered to the powers of the state. If there was one case of sound and fury signifying very little, it was the Hifazat-e Islam. These children of peasants who are locked in a miasma of hopelessness and a mind that feels more comfortable in an era when people thought the earth was flat, were literally kicked out by the joint operations of RAB, police and the BGB. The area was pit under a blackout, pepper sprayed and then the frightened Hifazatis were chased out in one of the most anti-climactic turn of events.
The Hifazat had promised to take over Bangladesh the night before and by the middle of the night they had disappeared from their location of power. However, the events also displayed how weak the state had become and how difficult it has become to protect its citizens as the evening contributed to death, blood and fire. The sequence of events that led to the midnight raid indicates that more rather than less of the same are to come.
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How a non-existent entity like Hifazat became so significant in a matter of days should point to the problem of things falling apart in the state. It’s no secret that it’s a force of reaction, a reaction to what was sold to this crowd as anti-Islamic decisions taken by various quarters including the party in power. That conflict arose out of the larger AL-BNP + Jamaat-e-Islami conflict brought to a head by the war crimes tribunal. But something went deeply wrong with the process and preparation of the events that has led to a crisis which could be much bigger than we expect. The fleeing Hifazatis don’t mean that the problems that birthed them have fled away. However, for the moment people in Dhaka are feeling relieved. They didn’t turn into a medieval Islamic Republic overnight.
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Watching the events it seems that the Hifazat does have two streams. One, the militant fire-lighters who battled the police and vandalized the area of their congregation. Two, the hapless caught in the middle — the madrassah men who gathered at Motijheel and once the clearing options were exercised left docilely holding up their hands in the most pathetic display of confusion and innocence. These people are the ones who are being used to show crowd power by the Opposition while those accused of being Jamaat-e-Islami supporters went on the rampage. There is very little chance that a rural cleric or his son will attack the police. Villagers are extremely scared of them. Burning shop including book shops that stock the Holy Quran is much more of a Jamaat modus operandi. They did so in Pakistan and it’s happening here again.
What Hifazat-e Islam may have allowed is to let Jamaat activists back to Dhaka in what is increasingly becoming a final desperate phase. But the kind of crowd power they thought would impress Dhaka has in fact scared them and in many ways the Islamic forces have lost the ‘goodwill’ generated by the unhappiness with the AL particularly the Savar crisis. They are increasingly looking more keen in militancy than ever before which is understandable given the fact that the options are swiftly shutting down for them. Whether Jamaat’s actions will bring them more trouble is not a question, it will. How damaged Bangladesh will get as a result of that clash is another but for the moment it does look like the Hifazat option has faded and lost its sting.
The sight of a fragile old man escorted by the police to a waiting plane is hardly the image of a man who had hoped to come to power by today. It’s not the delusion that is disturbing; it’s that the Maulana too is as deluded as the rest of the lot.
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None seem more lost than the BNP who have now more or less tried everything but just can’t get to a point from where they can leap to power. BNP itself tried to steal the elections of 2007 by trying to manipulate the caretaker government system and the AL is trying to do the same by ending it. In a state which has no credibility and no belief in the legitimate power transfer system, this is going to happen again and again. The AL was saved by the Fakhruddin-Moeen government but the military hasn’t shown any interest so far in stepping in. So the BNP doesn’t really know what to do next. Its support to the Hifazat-e Islam was a sad show of lack of political imagination. At least they realise that hartals no longer deliver any political message and people are simply not convinced that it has a political case.
Afsan Chowdhury is a journalist, activist and writer.