Riding high on Saturday’s long march in the capital, Hefazat-e-Islam has come up with a series of programmes—countrywide dawn-to-dusk hartal on Monday and “siege” of Dhaka on May 5—to shore up its campaign against “atheists”.
The campaign was initially launched against bloggers for “blasphemous” posts, but the leaders of the Chittagong-based Islamist outfit have widened their list,incorporating some ministers and leftist politicians, and demanded their arrest.
Placards displayed, and slogans and speeches delivered for hours at Motijheel’s Shapla Chattar explained the outfit’s 13-point demands, which include passage of an anti-blasphemy law and ban on women appearing in public with men. It set April 30 deadline for the government to meet the demands.
To drum up support for the “siege” of Dhaka programme, Hefazat announced rallies in major cities, including Chittagong, Rajshahi, Khulna and Sylhet, between April 11 and 30.
Police had given them permission to hold its post-long march rally in the downtown Dhaka on conditions that there will be no violence and no political speech.
But the conditions did not prevent Hefazat workers from vandalising a pro-hartal sit-in at Mohakhali, attempting to attack Gonojagoron Mancha at Shahbagh, assaulting on-duty police officers and journalists, including a female one.
And the rally was all about politics, with Hefazat leaders calling the government “munafiq” (betrayer), denouncing female leadership and asking the prime minister to drop “atheist ministers” from her cabinet and distance her government from the pro-Liberation War and progressive forces like Ghatak-Dalal Nirmul Committee and Gonojagoron Mancha.
An estimated 200,000 people converged on the venue, defying a hartal and ignoring difficulties in travel as all modes of long-distance transport in roads and waterways were off, while long-marchers’ access to train was reportedly denied.
The boisterous rally was boosted by the presence of senior leaders of the main opposition BNP, its ally Bangladesh Jamaat-e-Islami, and Jatiya Party, a partner of Awami League in the government. They expressed solidarity with Hefazat-e-Islam and its demands.
BNP standing committee member Khondker Mosharraf Hossain later told reporters: “We have fully supported Hefazat’s programmes as they are demanding punishment of the atheist bloggers.”
In the morning, BNP and Jatiya Party distributed dry food, water, soft drinks and medicine to the long march participants, who had come to Dhaka to join the rally, at various locations in the capital.
Mirza Fakhrul Islam Alamgir, acting secretary general of the BNP, claimed that at least 100,000 supporters of their 18-party alliance joined the long march programme.
“It was on party chief Khaleda Zia’s instruction that BNP gave assistance to the programme’s supporters,” Fakhrul told Dhaka Tribune.
The supports made the outfit’s biggest showdown since its birth three years back a huge success and its leaders more confidence about announcing tougher programmes like hartal.
“There is no option left to return home until we succeed,”Hafazat-e-Islam chief Shah Ahmad Shafi told the rally.
He claimed the movement is a non-partisan one. “Muslims from all parties, including Awami League, BNP and Jamaat, have joined the movement,” he stated.
BNP, which emerged from a moral supporter to a defender of Hefazat, was set to thrash out their next course of political actions in parallel to Hefazat’s programme in a meeting Saturday night.
“We extended our support to Hefazat-e-Islam’s programme, hoping that it would go for tough programmes but it did not. We are frustrated,” a stranding committee member said soon after the meeting started in the late evening with Khaleda in the chair.
Insiders said the party and Jamaat may even call hartal after Hefazat’s strike on Monday or go for similar agitations until May 5, giving hints to another spate of political turbulence in the weeks to come.