Some leaders of Hefazat-e-Islam Bangladesh claimed that they had lost command over their subordinates during the violence centered on demonstrations and hartal (general strike) against the Indian prime minister Narendra Modi’s recent Bangladesh visit.
Their anti-Modi campaign lacked organised plan by the high command, they said.
According to the Hefazat leaders, a tense situation arose on 26 March when ruling party men and police attacked them after Friday prayers at the Baitul Mokarram Mosque.
When the news spread across the country, aggrieved madrassa students–the core activists of Hefazat at Hathazari of Chattogram and Brahmanbaria locked in clashes with police. The situation went out of Hefazat’s reins as the clashes turned fatal.
Given the previous cases of Hathazari and Brahmanbaria, analysts observed that Hefazat’s madrasa students were not following the high command like before.
Hathazari Madrassa (Islamic educational institution) is considered as the central office of Hefazat-e-Islam Bangladesh. Hefazat amir Junaid Babunagari teaches in the madrasa.
The central leaders, ordering their students to retreat, failed to check the vandalism on 26 March. The violence left at least four protesters dead.
Brahmanbaria bore the highest cost of the mayhem. Hefazat supporters carried out arson attacks at several public and private offices including police station, railway station, press club and cultural center during their three-day protest that left at least 12 dead.
One certain Hefazat leader, preferring to be anonymous, told Prothom Alo, “Previous cases suggest that most of the time, protest programmes at Hathazari and Brahmanbaria turn wild.”
Local sources think that Hefazat supporters in the two particular areas hold a sense of impunity even while they set public establishments as their attacking points. That’s why, violent protest occurs repeatedly in the two areas.
The inspector general of police Benazir Ahmed, in his reaction, told journalists that Hefazat activists demeaned the golden jubilee of Bangladesh’s independence by orchestrating the mayhem.
The high command of Hefazat said the Islamic group protested against Narendra Modi on an ethical point of view. They consider Modi as an anti-Muslim personality. The Hefazat organisers added that they too had opposed the plan of Modi’s arrival prior to the inauguration of Mujib Year in 2020.
One central leader of Hefazat said, the group did not plan organising a massive protest against Modi’s recent visit as there some other heads of state too were invited in the golden jubilee of Bangladesh celebration.
Hefazat amir Junaid Babunagari and secretary general Nurul Islam Jihadi avoided participation in an anti-Modi protest rally under a banner ‘like-mided Islamic groups’ on 19 March. Organising role of some Hefazat leaders in the rally seemed contradictory to the policy of high command.
A protest programme on 26 March was prescheduled at the rally. The unprecedented call persuaded Dhaka Metropolitan Police commissioner to summon the organisers. He requested them not to hold the programme on the Independence Day.
However, the Islamic group organised a protest rally at Baitul Mukarram Mosque on 25 March. Earlier on 22 March, Hefazat leader Mamunul Haque assured that Hefazat would observe 26 March as a day of detestation to mark Modi’s arrival in Bangladesh, rather organising any protest proramme.
Hence, Hefazat had no scheduled programme in Dhaka on 26 March.
Who then led the demonstration at the Baitul Mokarram Mosque after the Friday prayers? Hefazat’s joint secretary general and Dhaka unit general secretary Mamunul Haque said, “It was a spontaneous move by the devotees. Actually, ruling party men provoked them.”
Explaining his presence at the mosque during the violence, he said that he went to the mosque as police had requested his assistance to evacuate people who got trapped in there during the clashes.
Hefazat organisationally engaged with the conflict as a reaction of 26 March violence at Hathazari and Brahmanbaria, party insiders claimed.
At 8:00pm of 26 March, Hefazat leaders announced their two-day protest programme including a general strike on 28 March.
“Killing of our supporters provoked us to come up with the protest programme,” said Hefazat’s joint secretary general Munir Hossain Kasemi.
However, some central leaders of Hefazat said that Hefazat organisers, in general, were indifferent to proceed with the anti-Modi campaign.
Despite staying in Dhaka on 26 March, Hefazat secretary general Nurul Islam Jihadi remained absent during the announcement on the Sunday general strike. The announcement was finally made by Hefazat’s nayeb-e-amir Abdur Rab Yusufi.
Ruling Awami League’s joint general secretary Mahbubul Alam Hanif, while visiting the arson-hit Brahmanbaria, told journalists that BNP, Jamaat-e-Islami and Hefazat men jointly carried out a well-planned mayhem.
Opposing to Hanif’s statement, Hefazat leader Abdur Rab Yusufi claimed that it blaming Hefazat the for the 28-28 March violence was unwarranted. “The ruling party men instigated the violence. And the government gained from the outcome,” he regretted.
After the demise of Hefazat’s founding amir Shah Ahmad Shafi, a new committee led by Junaid Babunagari was formed in November last year. Since then, the Islamic group seemingly has no organisational activities.
The new committee met in the first central meeting and afterwards the Dhaka and Chattogram city unit committees were formed in December.
Hefazat members showed some activity at the time, protesting against the French president and the presence of sculptures in Bangladesh.
*This report appeared in the print and online editions of Prothom Alo and has been rewritten for the English edition by Sadiqur Rahman