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Politics and principles

  • Published at 05:36 pm June 28th, 2017
Politics and principles

Following the removal of the statue in Bangladesh’s Supreme Court premises in May, I witnessed a deluge of appreciation for Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina on my Facebook feed. The status of a significant number of Facebook users was: Thank you, Prime Minister.

Interestingly, this appreciation came from people who have long been critical of Sheikh Hasina’s government.

I noticed some people who never supported any move by the ruling party Awami League supported this action of the government.

One Facebook post was very interesting. A madrasa student posted a collage of two pictures -- one of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina praying and the other of a radical Islamist leader -- and captioned it “I would like to thank both of you.

You have just done your duties as a believer. May God accept them for Islam?”

On the other hand, I found some long-term, blind supporters of this secular political party being highly critical of the prime minister and her party’s decision.

As an avid observer of social media trends for the last few years,

I have never seen such a u-turn of the PM’s supporters and critics. Since the incident, the usual critics of the PM are less critical of her activities. Some of them are even praising the government’s actions.

An unforeseen event

A number of political events in the last few months can best be described as a political tsunami -- most people did not see any of them coming -- and the statue removal is certainly the most significant of them.

Even leaders and supporters of the radical Islamist group Hefazat, who were at the forefront of demanding the removal of the statue, did not have any idea that the statue would be removed.

I asked a top Hefazat leader in late March whether he thought the government would fulfill their demands. He told me that he did not think that this would happen.

“Anti-Islamic forces are very active within the government. They would never let it happen,” the senior leader of Hefazat, who is also a senior official of the Madrasa Education Board, told me.

Because of its secular politics, the party always wins support of minorities in the elections. Minority groups might not be happy to see secular AL tilting towards Islamists

At midnight, on May 25, when the statue was removed, one thing came to my mind: “Are the secular forces losing control within the AL?”

We need some time to find the answer. What we can say now is: The secular forces are not in the position within the party as they used to be.   

A recent speech by religious leader Fariduddin Masud was very significant in this regard. He reportedly said: “Today, the Islamic scholars expressed their solidarity with the pro-liberation forces in the country.

“This will bring prosperity for the country.”

In Bangladesh, the AL is considered by many as a pro-liberation force.

In other words, Masud wanted to say that this Qawmi madrasa group wanted reconciliation with the AL, and both parties agreed to cooperate in the coming days.

A new polarisation

It will be very interesting to see what unfolds if and when secular AL and Bangladesh’s Islamist groups go hand in hand, and how long this will continue.

This is particularly significant as the vote banks of Bangladesh’s minority groups are also important for the AL.

Because of its secular politics, the party always wins support of minorities in the elections.

Minority groups might not be happy to see secular AL tilting towards Islamists.

Apparently, the reason behind the u-turn of the ruling AL political party is the general election which is due late 2018.

Qawmi madrasa-based Hefazat has some supporters in rural Bangladesh. There are also rumours that any of the two political parties might go into an alliance with Hefazat.

It will not be a surprise if the secular AL forms an election-time alliance with Hefazat.

We have to wait till the elections to see how far the AL will go from its secular policies to win the election.

The policy shifts we have seen so far tell us that a secular identity seems to be a burden for the AL when it comes to elections. A new polarisation is in the offing in Bangladesh’s politics.

Mushfique Wadud is a journalist.

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