Ending its 17-year ties with the BNP-led alliance, a faction of the Islami Oikya Jote led by Abdul Latif Nejami yesterday quit the combine.
Nejami, chairman of the Qawmi madrasa-based IOJ's faction, made the announcement at its triennial council at the capital's Institute of Engineers, Bangladesh.
Talking to The Daily Star, several leaders of the Islamist party faction said they had no alternative but to quit the BNP-led alliance, as the government put “huge pressure” on them to quit the opposition combine.
“Otherwise, the government would have forced us to change the two principals of the capital's Lalbagh and Boro Katra madrasas -- the faction's stronghold and the main source of its income,” said one of its leaders, wishing anonymity.
Two leaders of the faction -- Abul Hasnet, son of late IOJ chief Fazlul Huq Amini, and Saiful Islam, brother-in-law of Hasnet -- are principal and vice principal of Boro Katra madrasa with 600 students.
The two are also members of the managing committee of the 60-year-old Lalbagh madrasa that now has 1,500 students.
“Amini's family and relatives as well as the faction will suffer a big blow if they lose control over the two madrasas,” said a leader of the faction on condition of anonymity.
Talking to reporters after the council, Nejami refuted the claims that the faction was under “government pressure” to quit the opposition platform.
Within two hours of Nejami's announcement, the faction's Senior Vice Chairman MA Raquib made a counter move.
He proclaimed himself as the new chairman of the faction, and said it will not leave the BNP-led coalition.
“Those who have decided to quit the combine violated the party's constitution. They have lost their positions in the party. We have replaced them,” he said at an emergency press briefing at the BNP chairperson's Gulshan office.
“Islami Oikya Jote is with the 20-party alliance, and we will remain with it in the future.
Terming the Nejami-led new committee illegal, he said, “We will announce a full committee after holding a meeting of majlish-e-sura within 15 days."
He claimed that the faction's top leaders, including Nejami, held a meeting at the party's Paltan office on Wednesday evening and decided to stay in the BNP-led alliance.
But Nejami and Secretary General of the faction Mufti Foyzullah went back on the decision and announced severing relations with the opposition combine, he told journalists.
Later at night, the Raquib-led faction of the IOJ met BNP Chairperson Khaleda Zia and presented her a bouquet at her Gulshan office.
With the latest rift in the Islamist party, it now has three factions -- one led by Nejami, one by Raquib, and the other by Misbaur Rahman loyal to the ruling Awami League.
Misbaur broke away from the IOJ in 2005 following an intra-party dispute over the trial of top Jamaat-e-Islami leaders on war crimes charges and Jamaat's alleged involvement in militancy.
Towards the end of 2014, four components of the BNP-led alliance -- National Democratic Party, Islamic Party, National People's Party and NAP (Bhashani) -- split over the issue of staying in the BNP-led combine.
At yesterday's council, the Nejami-led faction said for the first time that the January-5 national election of 2014 was “legal” since it was held in line with the constitution.
The faction, however, said there were moral questions about the polls.
Nejami said the faction will now give attention to organisational activities and contest the next national election from all constituencies.
The faction announced a 31-member majlish-e-sura, its highest policy-making body, re-electing Nejami and Foyzullah as chairman and secretary general. It also formed a 101-member national executive committee.
The faction raised a five-point demand that includes the enactment of a law with a provision of death penalty for hurting religious sentiment and exclusion of all anti-Islamic elements from the women's development policy.
Over the last two weeks, there were indications that the Nejami-led faction would quit the BNP-led alliance, as its leaders skipped meetings with the BNP chief.
There were also hints that the ruling AL is building relations with the Nejami-led faction. Many were surprised when Nejami, and Hasnet, whose father Amini was a staunch critic of the Sheikh Hasina-led government and her secularist policies, were invited to the Victory Day reception at the Bangabhaban on December 16.
The faction's Secretary General Foyzullah, who faces several criminal cases, avoided appearing in public since May 5, 2013, when law enforcers flushed Hefajat-e-Islam men out of the city's Shapla Chattar.
But he started making public appearances around three weeks ago.