Even though the Hefajat-e-Islam used the visit of the Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi for their recent onslaught across the country, their main attack was on the government and the secular values that Bangladesh today stands for. And that becomes obvious once we look at what they targeted and destroyed—setting public offices on fire, attacking police stations, ransacking Mandirs and not even sparing the Ustad Alauddin Khan Music Academy. Alauddin Khan is considered one of the most high ranking classical musicians, who is not only respected in this region but also abroad by lovers of classical music. Why was his memorial destroyed? Why was the public land office attacked and land records destroyed? Why was a public train attacked?
If we look at all these factors, we see that Modi's visit was just the excuse—the chaos was intended for the occasion of Bangladesh's 50 years of independence. This is a wake-up call for the government, the Awami League and Sheikh Hasina, who has long been appeasing them by accepting all their demands, some of them quite outrageous. It was due to their pressure that a lot of changes were brought to our regular school education, including the exclusion of secular writers' stories from prescribed government textbooks. The government was forced to give due recognition to the degrees of the Qawmi madrassa system, which was particularly absurd when the government has no say over the curriculum of Qawmi madrassas and does not even have a complete list of how many Qawmi madrassas there are in the country.
With all these appeasements, they have now revealed their true colours, and if the government thinks this is just an anti-Modi movement and try and renegotiate with them again, it will be making a big mistake. While appeasing Hefajat, the government, in the meanwhile, suppressed all other dissenting voices, including that of the opposition BNP, civil society and the independent media. On the one hand extreme voices were given space, but on the other hand, secular dissenting voices were crushed. Now the government stands alone against this extremist force.
The handling of the situation over the last few days is also questionable. Was it really necessary to open fire on Hefajat activists? Were the necessary precautionary steps taken beforehand to prevent violence? And why was Chhatra League used as a counter force to the Hefajat? Why was that necessary when we already have the police and other law enforcement agencies?
What we witnessed over the past week is very alarming. The government must immediately rebuild bridges with secular voices in the country, including the dissenting ones, and thereby strengthen the force that needs to be brought together to curtail the rise of extremist organisations, including Hefajat.