Regional political parties fear Awami League's increasing influence will diminish their long-standing political sway in the hill tracts
Tension among the regional political factions in the Chittagong Hill Tracts has been escalating following the formation of United People's Democratic Front (Democratic), a breakaway faction of UPDF.
Ever since its formation, the hill tracts have witnessed a sudden rise in the number of deaths of party members. The clashes took an even more violent turn after Parbatya Chattagram Jana Samhati Samiti (PCJSS) (MN Larma) faction started publicly supporting the Awami League.
On December 16 last year, JSS MN Larma's Youth Affairs Secretary Pritimoy Chakma announced his party's decision to provide support to Awami League in the December 30 national polls. And with JSS MN Larma's help, for the first time in history, the Awami League won all three constituencies in the hill tracts.
Three months after the general election, an attack took place on March 18 during the second phase of the upazila parishad election.
‘Divide and rule’
The recently formed alliance between Awami League, UPDF (Democratic) and JSS (MN Larma) has created a sense of panic among the other regional parties, as they fear losing their long-standing political influence in the area, sources said.
According to the sources, two regional factions have banded together to tackle the alliance. However, this has not been confirmed by either of the parties.
But with several cases filed against leaders and members of UPDF in recent times, the party has been facing trouble.
Although the party does not provide any candidates for upazila and union-level elections, UPDF always gives its blessings to the candidate deemed most likely to work for the hill tracts people.
"But after cases were lodged against UPDF leaders over Rangamati's Naniarchar upazila Chairman and JSS MN Larma Vice-Chairman Shaktiman Chakma's death on May 3 last year, our party backtracked, and has been forced to maintain silence," a UPDF leader, requesting anonymity, told the Dhaka Tribune.
Tapan Jyoti Chakma, president of UPDF (Democratic), was also killed on his way to Shaktiman's funeral, along with Sujon Chakma, general secretary of Mahalchhari upazila unit Pahari Chhatra Parishad (PCP). Three others were killed the following day.
UPDF was held responsible for all the attacks.
However, UPDF spokesperson Mikel Chakma said: "UPDF has always stood for ensuring rights and identities of the hill tracts people. The Awami League and their allies have always tried to put the blameon us, to stop us from voicing the rights of our people.
"UPDF has been defamed intentionally to make our peaceful democratic political endeavours questionable," he added.
Mikel further claimed that the ruling party's alliance with other regional political factions did not win them any support from the indigenous community. "But the Awami League has been able to exercise their political power more freely," he said.
When asked about the possibility of UPDF allying with PCJSS (Santu Larma), Mikel said: "Although most people would like to see the formation of the alliance, our differing political ideologies have made such an alliance impossible."
Mitan Chakma, publication secretary of UPDF (Democratic), said they broke from UPDF because they could not support UPDF's recent activities.
"Our support to the Awami League cannot be called an alliance," Mitan said. "It is better termed as an understanding. We believe violent measures can never bring peace to the hill tracts, which is why both parties reached a consensus that we would practice our ideologies independently, and not lock in any battles over exercising our power."
Similar sentiments were echoed by Baghaichhari Municipality Mayor and Awami League leader Zafar Ali Khan. "We reached a consensus, as everyone wants peace to prevail in the hill tracts region, so everyone can move freely," he said.
Zafar said the March 18 attack in Baghaichhari was not an altercation between the ethnic community and Bangladeshis. "This shows that the people have accepted our presence."
However, Faizul Hakim Lala, secretary of Jatiya Mukti Council, said: "There is no reason to believe the government is actually working to establish peace in the Chittagong Hill Tracts. Rather, they have adopted a 'divide and rule' policy, which has resulted in the escalating violence. If they had treated the regional factions better, the Baghaichhari attack might not have taken place."