A highly placed source of the government said almost all important leaders of Hefazat are under watch. Old cases against them are being revived. The government is moving ahead with a goal to establish control over the organisation’s leadership by creating pressure from all sides.
The government will take advantage of the month of Ramadan and the ongoing lockdown being imposed because of coronavirus. Hefazat mainly uses the madrasa students in their programmes. Qawmi madrasa are on holiday in Ramadan. So this is good time for the government to take action against Hefazat.
Stepping up legal action has also been easy for the government following the controversy over Hefazat's joint secretary general Mamunul Haque. The controversy has become the talk of the town, putting the reputation of Hefazat’s leaders in question. Efforts are on to find out the ‘weaknesses’ of other leaders of the organisations. Financial scandals, irregularities in management of madrasas and fund management will be brought to fore, if found.
According to the sources concerned, a section of the government and the Awami League’s policymakers think there is no alternative to keeping Hefazat under pressure. Hefazat had somewhat retreated in face of law enforcement agencies’ operations after taking position on Dhaka’s Shapla Chattar and carrying out widespread violence in 2013. The government also exerted control on a portion of its leadership and met many demands of Hefazat.
The government passed a law in parliament on 20 September 2018 recognising top Qawmi degree Dawra-e-Hadith as equivalent to Master's degree. As a result, the Al-Hiyatul Ulya Lil-Zami'atil Qawmiya Bangladesh organised a “shokrana mehfil” (thanksgiving) at Dhaka's Suhrawardy Udyan on 4 November 2018 ahead the national parliamentary election. Prime minister Sheikh Hasina was the chief guest of the rally where she was accorded the title “Mother of the Qawmi”.
However, leaders close to the government were left out from the new committee after the death of Hefazat’s founding ameer Shah Ahmed Shafi. Then the clandestine relations between the government and Hefazat were severed. After that, Hefazat created tensions by demonstrating against sculptures. At that time, the government took up talks with them rather than going rigid. However, the government took up a strict stance following Hefazat's opposition to Indian prime minister Narendra Modi's visit and the incidents of violence that ensued.
According to a section of the ruling party, even if Hefazat can’t be brought under complete control, a split in the organisation is possible under the prevailing pressure. Some leaders call for the use of forces against them. If necessary, a behind-the-scene communications with Hefazat will be taken in addition to creating pressure on the organisation, several sources from the government said.
However, Awami League joint general secretary Mahbubul Alam Hanif told Prothom Alo that Hefazat-e-Islam has challenged the state, constitution and independence war by it violence. The government and the Awami League have taken a stern stance against them. They must pay for the destruction, he warned.
Sources in Awami League said though Hefazat is a non-political organisationmost of its top leaders are from different religious political parties. Their politics is completely opposite to that of the Awami League and so they will never go along. However, maintaining a strategic relationship is necessary for political purposes.
President of Awami League’s ally Workers Party of Bangladesh, Rashed Khan Memon, told Prothom Alo the government is taking steps. However, it still can't be said that the government has distanced itself from Hefazat. There has been a plan and attempt in the government to split the Hefazat and bring them to their side. He says this will be suicidal because young leaders and activists of Awami League are developing a soft corner for Hefazat. That’s why the government will have to clarify its stand on the matter instead of playing tricks, he added.
*This report appeared in the print and online edition of Prothom Alo and has been rewritten in English by Hasanul Banna