Political ramifications of killing Hefajat men

By Faruque Ahmed

The killing of Hefajat-e-Islam workers who largely come from the countryside showed how the nation is predominantly becoming divided between the urban elite and the rural poor. It also showed how religion is becoming the property of the rural poor.
Police killed the poor villagers and Jamaat workers in hundreds in April this year when they took to the streets to protest the death penalty to senior Jamaat-e-Islami leader Maulana Delwar Hossain Sayeede. This time people coming mostly from villages have been massacred in the city centre again as they came to press home their religious demands.
The question that may be now increasingly asked is whether the poor and the religious groups, who constitute the vast majority of the people, have any say in the affairs of the nation. The unfolding events thus showed the country’s political divide is only deepening.
The crisis is only widening. The killing of Hefajat workers and chasing their leaders will accelerate polarization at all levels in politics, analysts say. Moreover, they believe it will add one more formidable challenge to the government from the countryside adding to the list of existing opponents of the ruling coalition.
The midnight killing of Hefajat workers at Shapla Chattar remains totally shrouded in mystery. Dhaka Metropolitan Police (DMP) Commissioner Benazir Ahmed claimed that nobody was killed in the late night operation while death tolls from the previous day-long clashes stood at 11. He said, the joint forces carried out the raid to clear the city centre from the unauthorized occupation by the clerics as they had information that the Hefajat workers were planning to “loot the central bank and carry out raid at Bangladesh secretariat” at dawn.
Benazir even dismissed the use of lethal weapons in the operation while dismissing the social media reporting in facebook, U-tube and such other outlets producing the picture of dumping of bodies. These are mischievously edited and misleading, he said.
But Hefajat leaders said their workers were victims of pre-planned massacre without any warnings and the death tolls from ‘Operation Secured Shapla Chattar’ which was codenamed by the government, stood between two and three thousand. They are collecting information from the grassroots and it may take some time to ascertain the exact death tolls, they said.
BNP has also lent support to the death figure claimed by Hefajat and said the figure provided by DMP was not credible. More than a thousand people had perished on that fateful night, they said comparing it with the Jalianwalabagh massacre by the colonial British government.
It may only be compared with March 25 midnight massacre of unarmed people in the city by the Pakistani forces in 1971 in our time, BNP leaders said.
Hefajat and BNP leaders held the view that victims’ bodies were removed in the darkness of night as the operation was carried out switching off the lights in the streets and clearing the spot from the presence of the members of the print and electronic media.
Never before in the last 42 years history of Bangladesh, such political killings occurred they said adding voice with rights groups at home and abroad including the Amnesty International for an international probe into it the killing.
Media reports, however, vary with the highest number of casualties at 44 covering from the daylong clashes on May 5 through the night. Hefajat said their workers were always unarmed and came under police firing and attacks from the ruling party goons at Gulistan, Purana Paltan and Baitul Mukarram area, where Awami League, BSD, JSD, Communist Party and Workers Party offices are located and they enforced a ban on the movement of Hefajat men.
The peaceful gathering at Shapla Chattar showed Hefajat workers were non-violent and it showed their mood. News reports in some dailies meanwhile said ruling party goons  carried out destruction of properties and torched small shops including bookstores which were selling the holy Quran.
Mainstream reporting however blamed the Hefajat workers for the violence, but Hefajat dismissed these reports in print and electronic media as the work of the government friendly press. The vandalism was pre-planned and the permission to hold the rally was also fishy, the Islamist group said.
The government wanted them to step into a trap luring them to Shapla Chattar and they did what they had exactly planned, critics said suggesting that the massacre may become a boomerang to the government soon.
Some sources even suggested that the government has let the Gonojagoran workers take a chance on Hefajat men who have vowed to destroy them. As analysis is pouring in, questions are also looming large as to what benefits the government may derive from the killing.
Many people wonder why all sensational events are happening during the tenure of this government. Not only the Shapla Chattar killing, the BDR revolt in February 2009 also left 57 army officers killed almost destroying the foundation of the country’s defence. Then came the recent collapse of Rana Plaza at Savar which has so far left some 950 garment workers killed while more than 450 are still missing.
The collapse of the building and the magnitude of the devastation showed in parallel the decay of the system of governance and the prevalence of vandalism, killing and repression at all levels of society. Otherwise, Rana Plaza could not have been built by a ruling party goon and so many people would not have been killed with as many missing and injured.
Swindling of thousands of crore taka from state-owned commercial banks took place under this government. The Hallmark scandal is only the tips of the iceberg. Earlier the stock market was robbed by people close to the government and names of the culprits were not punished. The Destiny scandal and Padma Bridge scandal are some other big scams, but the hand of the law remained ineffective to deal with the criminals.
Meanwhile, the country’s political situation is only worsening. It witnesses two days’ hartal enforced by BNP-led 18-party alliance. Yet another hartal is fixed by Hefajat to protest the killing of its workers for Sunday next, the opening day of the business week. Earlier BNP has served a 48-hour ultimatum to accept the non-party government during election, which the government immediately turned down.
The country is heading towards more violence and where the end of it lies, nobody knows.