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The Islamic Factor Enters Politics – Farhad Mazhar

The April 6 rally of Hefazat-e-Islam has ended, giving some respite from the tension and alarm it had generated. There have been a few lessons to be learnt from the gathering, though.

1. The resounding footsteps of the marching Hefazat men brought home the fact that there are hundreds of thousands of people in Bangladesh other than those who imagine this country is theirs alone, theirs to exploit, loot and do as they please. This was a wake up call for that class of exploiters.

2. Hefazat-e-Islam hadn’t planned just a public rally in Dhaka, their programme was a long-march. Mao Zedong had organised similar long-march programmes with the struggling working class of China against the exploiting rulers and this programme of Hefazat-e-Islam resounded in a similar character of struggle against oppression. They also pointed that it was an historical error to claim that the communists had introduced the long-march as a form of protest. Islamic history is replete with examples of such long marches.

3. The government took all sorts of measures to foil this programme. Their last ditch effort had been to use the Sector Commanders’ Forum, the United Cultural Alliance, the Ghatak Dalal Nirmul Committee (Committee to exterminate the Killers and Collaborators) and 27 other organisations to thwart the Hefazat-e-Islam programme through hartals (strikes) and blockades. Trains, buses, ferries, boats, all forms of public transport were held up. Even so, the gathering took place in Dhaka, bringing together an unprecedented number of people, in hundreds of thousands, certainly a rare moment in the streets of Dhaka. Those who could not come to Dhaka held gatherings in various places all around the country. Only about one tenth of the people actually managed to reach Dhaka. Yet this amounted to hundreds of thousands thronging the city streets. It was nothing less than amazing.

4. The gathering from beginning to end was peaceful. They kept their word given to the police and the administration and ended their programme on schedule. This shows just what control the leaders have on their people. This was the beginning of a peaceful struggle.

Before ending, I will point out a couple of significant points concerning the gathering.

Firstly, religion has always had a presence in the politics of Bangladesh but this is the first time that Islam came forward as a priority of its own. In trying to uproot Islamic politics, Sheikh Hasina has simply established it further. Cracks and weaknesses have appeared in the language and culture-based nationalism that we have seen in Bangladesh over the past 42 years.

Secondly, in the coming days Islam will become a determinant in Bangladesh politics. The question of Islam will enter in various ways when it comes to the development of politics. If the question of Islam is not handled properly, this will have a negative impact on politics. Conversely, if this issue is handled correctly, it can bring about revolutionary changes in Bangladesh’s politics. This means the issue of Islam is now a factor in any revolutionary change to be undergone in Bangladesh.

Thirdly, the significance of the rally is not in its 13-point demand, but in the organisational success of bringing together this vast number of people. Hefazat-e-Islam has put forward its 13-point demand. Whether we like it or not, debate of these demands and public opinion will be an important factor in politics in the days to come.

April 6 2013 (Commentary in Naya Diganta)

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