Question mark on Awami League’s secular credentials a lesson for TMC

Allegations have been levelled against grassroots activists with conflicting ideologies for taking part in the carnage which has led to the killing of six people and vandalism of several Hindu-owned temples, shops and homes over the alleged desecration of Quran

The country’s minority organisations feel that the attacks were the manifestation of dilution of the secular ideals, on which the AL led the country’s liberation war in 1971

As Bangladesh singes in communal violence, the ruling Awami League’s secular credential has come under scrutiny, with many of its grassroots activists allegedly taking part in the carnage, ostensibly a consequence of recruiting people with conflicting ideologies.

At least six people have been killed, several Hindu-owned temples, shops and homes vandalised, robbed and torched in different parts of the country since October 13, over a rumour that the Quran was desecrated at a Durga Puja pandal in Cumilla.

The latest string of violence against the minority community is not a new phenomenon in Bangladesh even during the supposedly secular AL regime, which has coined the slogan ‘Dhormo Jaar Jaar, Utsob Shobar’ (religion is a matter of personal faith whereas the festival is universal).

As many as 3,679 attacks on the Hindu community took place between January 2013 and September this year, according to a bdnews24.com report that compiled yearly data released by the Ain o Salish Kendra (ASK), a prominent rights group of Bangladesh.

Advertisement


Most number of attacks against Hindus in the recent past took place in the post-election violence of 2014. The election was boycotted by the opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP)-led 18 party alliance, paving the way for an AL victory with two thirds majority.

In the aftermath of the election, political clashes broke out in various parts of the country, as the BNP and its key-ally Jamaat-e-Islami termed the elections as ‘illegitimate’. The country’s minority communities comprising 10 per cent Hindus, one per cent Buddhists, 1.5 per cent Christians and others, who are generally perceived as AL supporters, became the soft target of the political violence.

Also read: Behind Bangladesh Durga Puja attacks, ‘conspiracy against Hasina govt’

At least 11 people from the Hindu community died, while another 862 were injured, two women were raped and another four were sexually assaulted in 2014 violence, bdnews24.com reported, quoting the ASK’s data.

The country’s minority organisations feel that the attacks were the manifestation of dilution of the secular ideals, on which the AL led the country’s liberation war in 1971.

After the Awami League came to power with a massive mandate in 2008, promising to punish those who committed crimes against humanity during the liberation war, the minority community had hoped for a general revival of inclusive spirit, on which Bangladesh was created.

The community’s faith was further bolstered by the subsequent execution of war criminals, including some top leaders of Jamaat-e-Islami, and Salauddin Quader Chowdhury of the BNP for brutalities committed on pro-liberation elements and Hindus.

The scenario, however, started changing after the 2014 elections. Many grassroots activists of decimated BNP and Jamaat-e-Islami started infiltrating into the AL, while an Islamic advocacy group of madrassah teachers and students called Hefazat-e-Islam Bangladesh (HIB), established in 2010, started encroaching into the vacant opposition space.

The HIB led a violent protest in Bangladesh against Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to the country, ahead of West Bengal assembly elections, earlier this year.

Last year, it had also led massive demonstrations, first against French President Emmanuel Macron’s defence of free speech laws that allow cartoon depictions of the Prophet Mohammed, and then to demand removal of political statues, which it said were against the Sharia. The group was also allegedly responsible for the destruction of an under-construction statue of Bangladesh’s founding father and first president Sheikh Mujibur Rahman in Kushtia, on December 5, 2020.

Also read: Goons attack Hindu temples in Bangladesh during Durga Puja, 4 killed; paramilitary force called in

Initially, the AL government flirted with the HIB, hoping that it would be a useful Islamist ally to counter the BNP-Jamaat combine. The government had conceded several of the radical demands of the outfit, including removal of contents from school textbooks that the HIB had objected to. Under the outfit’s pressure the AL government had even removed a statue of the “Lady Justice” from the Supreme Court’s building in 2017 as the HIB had deemed it un-Islamic.

The HIB backed the AL in the 2018 parliamentary elections.

This hobnobbing with the radical Islamist outfit and opening of its door for the BNP-Jamaat members have diluted the AL’s secular characters, raising concerns even within the party. A central working committee meeting of the party held on April 19, 2019 raised alarm about the BNP and Jamaat men randomly joining the AL without any ideological check.

“Not everyone in the AL is secular. It’s a fact that some bad elements from other parties have infiltrated into our ranks and files. We are trying to address the issue,” AL MP and former Bangladesh minister Biren Sikder told The Federal over phone, from Bangladesh.

The Bangladesh Hindu Buddhist Christian Unity Council (BHBCUC), an umbrella organisation of the country’s minority organisation, alleged that grassroots workers of the country’s ruling party were also involved in the attacks against Hindu community last week.

“It is unfortunate that a majority of the grassroots leaders of the ruling AL joined the attacks. This way a secular party like the AL will soon turn into Awami Muslim League,” said Rana Dasgupta, general secretary of the council.

Another senior joint general secretary of the Council Manindra Kumar Nath told The Federal that though the country’s minority community still had great faith in Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, the ruling party and the administration’s role in the recent incident was questionable.

Demanding a judicial probe into the incidents, Nath stressed the need to inculcate secular values in the society.

Admitting that some grassroots members of the AL had joined the attacks, Sikder said “the party is sending out a strong message to its workers to build up a political resistance against the communal ploy of vested interest groups.”

The attacks were instigated by “vested groups” in a bid to destabilise the country, said Bangladesh’s Home Minister Asaduzzaman Khan, without ruling out the possibility of involvement of BNP-Jamaat or any third force.

Repercussion in India

Meanwhile, the flames of the carnage, as expected, have already spread to this side of the border, turning the political discourse more divisive.

The BJP sees the attacks on Hindus in Bangladesh as an opportunity to push its Hindutva agenda, ahead of the by-elections in four Assembly seats on October 30.

The party’s chief spokesperson in Bengal Samik Bhattacharya on Sunday claimed that the situation in Bangladesh “calls for implementation of the contentious Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) and National Register of Citizens (NRC) in West Bengal.”

He further went on to add that illegal immigration from Bangladesh had disturbed the demography of Bengal, and that the people of state have to be aware of this now.

Also read: Mamata to lead TMC’s Assembly bypoll campaign in WB; Babul Supriyo’s name missing

While the TMC may once again be successful in electorally defeating the BJP’s majoritarian agenda on October 30, the recent incidents in Bangladesh should serve as an eye opener for the state’s ruling party, which has already welcomed a host of people from the BJP.

As recently as on Sunday (October 18), the TMC inducted around 300 members from the BJP in poll-bound Dinhata assembly constituency. Not too long ago, the party also roped in the controversial BJP MP and former Union Minister Babul Supriyo besides other senior leaders, including MLAs, from the saffron camp.

“Such inductions show the duplicity of TMC’s secular conviction. The TMC cannot claim to fight the Hindutva ideology by hiring people from the BJP,” said Nirmalya Banerjee, a Kolkata-based political commentator.

CATCH US ON: