Awami League's two groups blaming each other

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Two groups of local Awami League are blaming each other over the incidents of attacks on puja mandaps in Hajiganj of Chandpur.

The two groups have accused each other of obstructing the attempts made to thwart the attacks on the mandaps.

According to two cases filed by the police in connection with the attacks, around 2,200 people first carried out attacks on the puja mandap of Lakshmi Narayan Zeur Akhra. Later they carried out attacks on more five puja mandaps in Hajiganj thana and upazila sadar. Police have arrested 32 people in connection with the attacks.

Local and party sources said there is rivalry between two groups of Hajiganj Awami League for the last eight years or so. One group supports former home minister and MP of Chandpur-5 constituency, freedom fighter Major (Retd) Rafiqul Islam.

Hajiganj upazila chairman and Awami League general secretary Gazi Mainuddin and Hajiganj municipality mayor Mahbub Ul Alam lead another group.

MP Rafiqul Islam formed an organisation, Hajiganj Upazila Unnoyon Parishad in 2019 to resolve the feud.

Chandpur Awami League leader Md Ahsan Habib and Hajiganj Awami League organising secretary Md Jasim Uddin were joint conveners of the organisation.

Puja mandap celebration committee sources said, the incident of demeaning the Holy Quran in Cumilla took place on 13 October. The attacks on Hajiganj Lakshmi Narayan Zeur Akhra puja mandap began at 8:10pm on the day. Chandpur deputy commissioner Anjana Khan Majlis and police super Milon Mahmud visited the mandap at about 6:30pm.

Speaking to Prothom Alo, several members of puja celebration committee said they informed police super about the risk of attacks and he instantly deployed three policemen at the puja mandap.

They said they could not identify the attackers immediately. The attackers shut the main gate of the puja mandap immediately after the attacks began. Earlier, three policemen were deployed there.

Upon receiving information, police super Milon along with 20 to 25 policemen quickly reached there. They mainly put up resistance. The situation was brought somewhat under control at around 9:00pm. Later several Awami League leaders and activists went there. Five people died in the violence in Hajiganj.

The AL leaders, however, claimed the attackers retreated at around 10:00pm when AL, Chhatra League and Jubo League upazila unit top leaders reached the spot.

Speaking to Prothom Alo, Hajiganj municipal mayor Mahbub Ul Alam said they went to the spot at 9:15pm. Later AL other leaders and activists reached there. They put up a resistance.

Hajiganj upazila Unnoyon parishad joint convener Md Jasim Uddin alleged Hajiganj Awami League general secretary Gazi Moinuddin and his followers at different places the opposed leaders and activists who came to thwart the attacks.

He claimed at the instruction of the member of parliament, union level Awami League, Jubo League and Chhatra League activists went to the spot and resist the attackers.

However, Gazi Mainuddin said, "Everything is on video footage as to who resisted the attacks and who remained silent. We resisted those who came to carry out attacks. Each of our leaders and activists are guarding Hindu houses, puja mandaps and temples in Hajiganj."

Hajiganj Awami League vice-president Dleep Kumar said he did not notice any such sentry. After the attacks, several Awami League leaders and activists appeared in the spot.

Party sources said local level top leaders including MP were not in the locality on the day of attacks. Other local leaders primarily did what could be done. They, however, reached the spot after the situation somewhat came under control.

Several leaders including Hajiganj upazila Awami League president Helal Miazee and organising secretary Md Jasim Uddin stay in Dhaka. They were in Dhaka on the day of incident. Those leaders appeared in the locality when MP Rafiqul Islam reached the area.

Rafiqul Islam said he could not go to the locality immediately due to illness. Assessing the situation half an hour earlier, he activated the administration, and asked the leaders and activists over telephone to prevent the attacks.

He said, "We had been able to tackle the situation and prevent further big attacks with all of our efforts."

Hajiganj upazila Awami League president Helal Miazee said, "I was in Dhaka. I came to know the matter on the next morning. I immediately went to the locality and visited the damaged temples and talked to the affected people."

The 126-years-old Lakshmi Narayan Zeur Akhra is in ward no. 126 of Hajiganj municipalty. Zaidul Azhar Alam is councillor and municipal panel mayor.

When asked what he did during the attack, he said, "I was purchasing things for the milad mahfil of my grandfather. After sometime, I noticed there was firing. Then I went back home."

Chandpur assistant superintendent of police (Hajiganj circle) Sohel Mahmud said a total of ten cases have been filed in connection with the incidents of attacks on the temples and mandaps.

Temple authorities filed eight cases and police filed two cases. So far 32 people have been arrested in connection with the incidents.

*This report, originally published in Prothom Alo print edition, has been rewritten in English by Rabiul Islam.