For the Bangladesh government, priorities are fighting the COVID pandemic and the unruly religious fundamentalist forces. For the past few days, we have been witnessing with the gravest concern – the sudden rise of Hefazat-e-Islam and their cohorts – Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP), Jamaat-e-Islami, Hizbut Tahrir, Neo-JMB and other militancy forces, as well as hundreds of their fanatic supporters. The way Hefazat cadres are openly flexing muscle and even directly threatening the government only reminds us of their extreme notoriety in 2013. On April 2, 2021, Indian authorities hoped, Bangladesh government would aptly address the challenges posed by protests spearheaded by Hefazat-e-Islam during Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit. Narendra Modi was in Bangladesh on March 26-27 to attend the golden jubilee celebration of the country’s independence and the birth centenary of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman. However, radical Islamic forces and enemies of Bangladesh’s independence started countrywide anarchy, vandalism and terrorist activities in the name of protesting Indian Prime Minister’s visit. Hindu properties, including religious places also came under heinous attacks of these evil nexus of religious extremists. Commenting of the mayhem of Hefazat-e-Islam and its cohorts, Indian External Affairs Ministry spokesperson Arindam Bagchi told media, “As fas as the violence is concerned, we have always been against fundamentalism and extremism. We are confident that the government of Bangladesh will address the challenge”. Making it clear that the protests by Hefazat-e-Islam would not cast any shadow on the amicable ties between India and Bangladesh, the External Affairs Ministry spokesperson said: “Modi’s visit to Bangladesh had facilitated significant decisions to reinforce the legacy of 1971 and this is in furtherance of India-Bangladesh bilateral cooperation”. Ahead of his two-day visit to Dhaka, Prime Minister Narendra Modi tweeted: “Our partnership with Bangladesh is an important pillar of our Neighborhood First policy, and we are committed to further deepen and diversify it. We will continue to support Bangladesh’s remarkable development journey, under Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s dynamic leadership”. Hefazat-e-Islam turns into a threat to Bangladesh’s sovereignty Even though radical Islamist Hefazat-e-Islam claims to be a “non-political” outfit, in the reality, it is gradually advancing towards emerging as a mainstream political force with heavy Islamist and pro-Caliphate agenda, especially due to the fall of Jamaat-e-Islami from politics, and BNP’s increased intention of embracing radical Islamic ideology. According to media reports, Hefazat-e-Islam is getting fund from Pakistan and Qatar, while it is also organizing mainly students and teachers of Qaomi [Koranic] madrassas, with the nefarious agenda of turning Bangladesh either into a Sharia state or a Caliphate. Hefazat-e-Islam, literally ‘protector of Islam’, was formed in 2010 when the country was taking gradual measures to undo the Islamization of its polity by the military rulers in the late 1970s and 1980s. In 2008, the military-backed caretaker government had proposed the Draft National Women’s Development Policy Bill, promising equal rights to women in property ‘through earnings, inheritance, loan, land and market management’. In the December 2008 election, the secular Awami League, led by Sheikh Hasina, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman’s daughter, was brought to power. The secularists had demanded repealing the Fifth Amendment to the Constitution, which had made sweeping changes to the country’s original secular Constitution during the years of military rule (Later in the year the Supreme Court ruled the amendment was illegal). The Islamist groups saw these developments, along with the shrinking space of clergy politics, as a threat to their core interests, and came together on one platform to form Hefazat-e-Islam. In February 2010, Hefazat called a demonstration in Chittagong against the Women’s Bill and the bid to cancel the Fifth Amendment. They clashed with police, injuring over a dozen, and announcing the arrival of a new Islamist group in Bangladesh’s political landscape. Anti-Modi protest was an excuse of radicalizing Bangladesh Commenting on the ongoing notoriety of Hefazat-e-Islam, India’s prominent newspaper The Hindustan Times in an opinion editorial said: The rise of anti-India Islamist force Hefazat-e-Islam in Bangladesh has contributed to the radicalization of the region and is turning out to be a security threat to the Sheikh Hasina government. It further said: The violent protests in Bangladesh over Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit was the first major action by Islamist hardline group Hefazat-e-Islam after Junaid Babu Nagari took over the radical group in November last year and had been trying to make his mark, people familiar with the matter said. Babu Nagari, a Hadith scholar who studied in Pakistan’s Jamia Uloom-e-Islamia for four years, elevated himself as the group’s chief at the end of a bitter power struggle that peaked after the death of its Amir Shah Ahmed Shafi in September last year. Counterterrorism and intelligence establishments in India, which have been monitoring activities of Hefazat-e-Islam are clearly worried at its alarming rise. Especially following the alleged murder of Hefazat’s founder Allama Shah Ahmed Shafi, this organization under Junaid Babu Nagari and Mamunul Haque, who are having tacit support of Khaleda Zia’s Bangladesh Nationalist Party and lately of fundamentalist groups such as the Jamaat-e-Islami Jamaat-e-Islami, Hefazat-e-Islam is advancing with the agenda of emerging as another Islamic State or Al Qaeda in the region. We need to note, although BNP did not formally extend support for the general strike called in March, but pointedly asserted that the call for the strike was logical. Diplomats in New Delhi and Dhaka suggest that the links between the Hefazat-e-Islam and the BNP could become more visible with Babu Nagari’s elevation as he seeks to turn the notorious group into a political force. According to credible intelligence source, Hefazat-e-Islam aims at beginning massive protests throughout Bangladesh from mid-2022 demanding holding of the next general election under a non-elected “caretaker” government. It has also pledged of working as a favourable force to Bangladesh Nationalist Party. Indian officials said they had spotted efforts by Islamic fundamentalist forces to unite for further Islamization of the society. The Hefazat, under its new leadership, is attempting to emerge as the leader of these fundamentalist groups. Bangladesh government should take immediate measures in countering the growing activities of Hefazat-e-Islam and its notorious agenda of Islamizing the country. At the same time, law enforcement and intelligence agencies in the country should ensure stern actions those online supporters and activists of Hefazat. (This article was first published in Blitz)
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