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Other than the demand for the trial of the war criminals, Gonojagaron Mancha brought forward several other demands including a ban on the politics of anti-independence elements, reinstatement of the 1972 constitution, a ban on religion-based politics and for the country to be run in accordance to the spirit of the Liberation War. They protested against the killing of free-thinkers by militants. People from all over the country, not just Dhaka, came forward to express their support for the Shahbagh movement.

At the time, Awami League not only agreed with the demands made at Gonojagaron Mancha, but even claimed this to be their own movement. In the parliament some of the party leaders delivered speeches, saying their hearts were lying in Shahbagh.

But their hearts did not remain for too long in Shahbagh. On 5 May 2013, the entire Dhaka city was in turmoil over the massive Hefazat-e-Islam gathering at the Shapla Chattar. Hefazat declared that until and unless their 13-point demand was met, they would not leave the capital city. But the government took up such a stern stance that they were obliged to leave even before the night was over.

Next we saw that for some unknown reason, the Shahbagh movement drew to a close. The Awami League, upon which the Shahbagh leaders and activists had depended so much, not just abandoned Gonojagaron Mancha, but also took up all sort of strategies so that the movement could no longer proceed independently. Clashes ensued between leftist students and youth, and Chhatra League.

Not long after that the people were totally taken aback to see the government making compromises with Hefazat-e-Islam. The cases filed against Hefazat leaders made no headway. Awami League leaders began to frequent the Hefazat headquarters in Hathazari.

Initially the Awami League leaders would say that it was necessary to neutralise Hefazat in order to tackle Jamaat-e-Islami. But now it looks as if it is Awami League that has been neutralised. The affinity with Hefazat has served to brainwash many of the party men, even officials of the administration. Here are a few examples.

Joint general secretary of Sunamganj district Chhatra League, Fayez Marjan, posted up statements in favour of Hefazat leader Maulana Mamunul Huq. Chhatak upazila Shwechchashebok League leader Alamin also uploaded similar posts. Both of them have been expelled.

In Dharampasha, Sunamganj, a local Awami League leader’s son Al Mujahid and his associates harassed Dhaka University Chhatra League leader Afzal Khan for his Facebook post about Hefazat. Awami League expelled that leader from the party over this incident. And the officer-in-charge (OC) of Dharampasha police station, Md Delwar Hossain, was withdrawn and attached to the Sunamganj police lines because he had harassed and detained the Chhatra League leader. Before that, on Tuesday night, the superintendant of police (SI) of Dharampasha police station, Zahirul Islam, and the assistant sub inspector of police (ASI), Anwar Hossain, were withdrawn and attached to the Sunamganj police lines.

After the mayhem at the resort, central leaders of Awami League went to Sonargaon, Narayanganj, and spewed out all sorts of verbal vitriol against Hefazat’s religious trade. But why had they remained silent for seven long years? What were their political calculations and considerations?

I noticed that a police official had even spoken strongly in support of Mamunul Huq on Facebook Live. He said that it was unlawful action on the part of those who had harassed him. I have read in the news that he too has been withdrawn. A powerful police officer of Dhaka’s Tejgaon zone had approached Mamunul Huq and his associate alems, wanting advice on mobilising public awareness. This police official explained, “Who is going to listen to me? Much more people will listen and follow Mamunul Huq.”

In the Sonargaon incident, local Jubo League and Chhatra League men had harassed Mamunul Huq. Then when Hefazat activists chased them away and forcefully took control of the resort, they forced a journalist to apologise. But he was not spared even after apologising. The Hefazat men beat him up and sent him to hospital.

There are many more within Awami League, Jubo League, Chhatra League an Shwechchashebok League who overtly of covertly support Hefazat. In Shalla, Sunamganj, the UP member Rafiqul Islam who instigated the attack on the minority community’s homes, is a local Jubo League leader. And the youth who had posted a status against Hefazat leaders, according to the police, is a Jubo Dal activist and member of the minority community. How will the role of Awami League or BNP supporters be explained here? Has religion became the yardstick?

Local Muslims were furious at the post of a BNP activist and the Jubo League leaders and UP member used that anger to set fire to attack the homes of the minority community. It does not take a political science expert to figure out who was instigated by whom.

The incidents that took place at Narayanganj, Saltha, Shalla, Brahmanbaria, Hathazari, Kishoreganj and other places, are nothing short of sheer lawlessness. In the past if such clashes took place, the local administration would tackle the situation along with the local people. They would hold several meetings. But now the local administration does not have congenial relations with the local political leaders, or even with the ruling party. Recently an Awami League leader of Kishoreganj commented that administrative democracy now reigns in the country.

There is another point that needs to be made. It is not correct to simply lay the blame for anything and everything on BNP, Jamaat, Shibir and Hefazat. If the correct decision is not taken at the correct time, such disruptive incidents are likely to occur again in the future. BNP and Jamaat had nothing to do with the Shalla incident. The mishap in Saltha, Faridpur, was a result of the administration’s arrogant decision. The administration can impose fines and detention for violation of health and hygiene guidelines, but they can’t beat anyone up for that. Even after taking up position for two hours at the Sonargaon resort in Narayanganj, they couldn’t make up their minds what to do. Did they purposely wait for Hefazat men to arrive?

After the mayhem at the resort, central leaders of Awami League went to Sonargaon, Narayanganj, and spewed out all sorts of verbal vitriol against Hefazat’s religious trade. But why had they remained silent for seven long years? What were their political calculations and considerations?

* Sohrab Hassan is Prothom Alo’s joint editor and a poet.

* This column appeared in the print and online edition of Prothom Alo and has been rewritten for the English edition by Ayesha Kabir

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