Allow me to pose this question: Do you know who Awami League’s friends and foes are? Let me be more precise: does the Awami League even know who its friends and foes are?
I ask this question in light of the reaction of different sections of people to the removal of the Lady Justice statue from in front of the country’s apex court.
Hefazat-e Islam Secretary General Junaid Babunagari described the removal as a "primary victory". From the manner in which he profusely congratulated the prime minister, you would think Hasina has no better friend or well-wisher than the man who tried to take her down on the night of May 5, 2013. It wasn’t just Babunnagari though. The rank and file of Hefazat, the Islamic Oikya Jote, the Khelafat Andolon, all came out in public to praise the prime minister.
Now let’s look at the other side. Ten prominent citizens, in a statement, called the removal a naked subservience of the government before religious fanatics. Who were these people? Abdul Gaffar Chowdhury, Professor Anisuzzaman, Hasan Azizul Haque, Sanjida Khatun, Syed Hasan Imam, Ramendu Mazumdar, Panna Kaiser, Mamunur Rashid, Mafidul Haque and Nasiruddin Yousuf Bacchu. They called the removal a "heinous act" and expressed "disgust".
Furthermore, among other platforms, Civil Aviation and Tourism Minister Rashed Khan Menon called it a “shameless surrender”, Professor Sirajul Islam Chowdhury described it as “not a good sign” and Rasheda K Chowdhury called it an “attack on secularism”. Earlier, cabinet ministers Asaduzzaman Nur and Hasanul Haque Inu were also critical of the move.
And then you have the police charging batons, firing tear gas shells and finally arresting and charging senior leaders of different progressive student organisations with attempted murder.
All of this has left me a little confused. Is Babunagari Awami league’s friend or Gaffar Chowdhury? Is Panna Kaiser the enemy or Faizullah? Is Menon a well-wisher or Kashemi?
If you and I can identify our friends and enemies, why wouldn't an age-old political party like Awami League be able to do so?
Many Awami Leaders are fuming in private but refusing to speak up in public. But not everyone.
This is what Dr Nuzhat Chowdhury, daughter of a freedom fighter and sworn Awami League supporter had to say on her Facebook profile: "Don’t think just because we stumbled, we have fallen. People only learn to walk after they have fallen down a number of times. To live in an anti-communal society is the highest human ideal. To achieve that ideal, it is clear to us that we will have to take many more falls in the future. But do not think that we will not reach that ideal. That ideal was the promise of our father. It is for that ideal that three million people gave their lives…."
A2i expert and someone closely associated with Awami League politics, Naimuzzaman Mukta had this to say on his Facebook account: "I am a political activist and I would like to take part in the election. But I don’t want to win an election with votes from people who do not share my ideals. If the party rejects my nomination bid for my views on this, then I don’t need the nomination."
Not everyone is as brave as Nuzhat and Mukta. But many are disheartened. Bangladesh came into being through Awami League’s leadership. The liberation war was fought on the ideals of non-communalism. Awami League still represents the progressive non-communal sections of Bangladesh. When Awami League makes a compromise to win votes, our entire political climate becomes poisoned and there is bitterness and hopelessness all around.
Whatever vote math Awami league is scribing, the numbers will never add up. Babunagari will never be on Awami League’s side. Instead, the people who are being critical today and taking blows from the police, they are the ones who will stand on Awami League’s side when the chips are down. And the Awami League knows this. Which is why what they are doing now is tantamount to ideological blackmail. But what the Awami league does not realize is that not only do they risk losing the progressives among their rank, but they also risk losing their religious allies who come from the tolerant streams, like Sunnat Wal Jamaat. In the end, there might be more subtractions than additions for Awami League.
The politics surrounding the removal of the statue is very amusing as well. Not only is Awami league on board with this, but so is BNP, Jatiya Party and of course Jamaat. It’s just been a few people with a conscience who have spoken up.
Awami League general secretary Obaidul Quader tried to deflect the responsibility for this on to the Chief Justice. What he is trying to do is clear. Now that Hefazat is happy, let’s also try to manage the progressives by putting the blame on the Chief Justice. Meanwhile, BNP leader Moudud Ahmed also credited the Chief Justice for the decision. Coming from the other side, his angle is also very transparent. He doesn’t want to credit Awami League for a decision that will play well among the Islamists.
Interestingly, the Supreme Court has so far had nothing to say.
Some think the removal is some sort of victory for Islam. Let’s get something out of the way. Islam has nothing to do with either the erection or removal of a statue. Islam is neither insulted by the erection of the statue, nor glorified through its removal. Sculptures are a form of art coming down from ancient times and can be found everywhere, even in Saudi Arabia. Islam is a way of life for the majority population in Bangladesh. But that does not necessarily make Bangladesh an Islamic state. We are a secular state. We had fought the Islamic Republic of Pakistan specifically on this spirit. Awami League used to be the custodian of this spirit. It has now become its usurper.
Awami League thinks it has managed Hefazat by replacing the statue. But Hefazat is now a tiger that has tasted human blood. Lady Justice was simply a test case. It was on number 7 of their list of 13 demands they placed in 2013. Now they want all statues removed. I am reminded of Ahmed Sofa’s observation on Awami League: “When Awami League wins, it wins alone. When Awami League loses, Bangladesh loses”.
If you stick to your values, a political organisation may face a momentary crisis, but it gains in the long run. Awami League lining up with Hefazat is as despicable as BNP’s alliance with Jamaat. Awami League should really know who its friends and foes are.