Hefajat-e Islam: Politicking in the garb of religion
Hefajat-e Islam is now more than a political party with a strategic disclaimer of having no political agenda.
The recent leadership and their activities only proved that they are working just like a political party, observed political analysts about Hefajat, which made the headlines for the last few days by inciting hate against sculptures, including the ones of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman.
"Basically, they are a political party but in a very strategic way they are working in disguise of a non-political organisation," said Dr Tareque Shamsur Rahman.
"They are using religion in a very strategic way to gain their political goal," he told The Daily Star.
At least one-third of Hefajat leaders, who last month seized control of the new committee of the Qawmi madrasa-based organisation, have direct links with Islamist political parties that took part in elections alone or under the platform of the BNP-Jamaat alliance.
The inclusion of leaders of Jamiyat-a-Ulamaye Islam, a component of the 20-party alliance led by the BNP, is the prime example. Thirty-four of its leaders made it to the 151-member new committee of Hefajat. Jamiyat is registered with the Election Commission as a political party.
In fact, this is for the first time Hefajat made the general secretary of Jamiyat its secretary general, although there was an understanding that any active political leader would not be able to get top posts in Hefajat, said its leaders.
Six top leaders of Khelafat Majlish, another component of the BNP-led alliance, were also included in the new committee.
At least 16 leaders of Bangladesh Khelafat Majlish, four of Islami Oikya Jote and six of Khelafat Andolon were accommodated in the Hefajat's new committee.
Bangladesh Khelafat Majlish and Islami Oikya Jote earlier were in the BNP-led alliance and both are registered with the Election Commission as political parties.
On November 15, Junayed Babunagari was declared Hefajat ameer at the end of its council held at Darul Ulum Moinul Islam Hathazari Madrasa in Chattogram. Before this committee was announced, Junayed served Hefajat as its secretary general.
The council was held around two months after the death of Hefajat amir Ahmed Shafi, who passed away in September.
The formation of the new committee sparked an outcry within the organisation with Moulana Mainuddin Ruhi, joint secretary general of the previous committee, terming the new committee completely illegal.
He said Hefajat had never had any top leader who had affiliations with any political party.
Soon after the formation of the new committee, Hefajat hogged the headlines as it strongly opposed the construction of Bangabandhu's sculpture in the capital.
During a meeting on November 19 in the capital's Mohammadpur, Junayed Babunagari vowed that they were ready to sacrifice their lives to establish rule of Allah in the land of Allah.
He even warned the government of facing consequences if it did not meet their demands.
The political analysts said the presence of political leaders in its new committee and its recent activities and demands signalled that it has turned into a political party.
Different religion-based political parties are using the platform to gain popularity and achieve their political goals as Hefajat has thousands of its dedicated followers across the country, they said.
"Hefajat is indeed a political party and they are working targeting to achieve a certain political aim," said Serajul Islam Choudhury, professor emeritus of Dhaka University.
Hefajat's demand to change the existing structure of the state is nothing but a political demand which manifests that they want to go to power.
He said they don't bother to talk on different public interest issues.
"They are using religion to do politics and they are depending on madrasa students to do it."
Prof Serajul said the present government's "compromising and soft stance" was also responsible for Hefajat's gaining strength and acting against the state.
Prof Dilara Chowdhury, another political analyst, said the present government is to be blamed if Hefajat enters politics.
She said Hefajat's activities were centred around Hathazari Madrasa in Chattogram. But through accepting all demands of Hefajat, the government has shown them that they can act as a pressure group.
"There is nothing to be surprised about Hefajat coming to politics as it was the present government that has invited them to politics," said Dilara, a former professor of political science at Jahangirnagar University.
Hefajat first appeared on the scene in 2009 by protesting a draft national women development policy that provided equal inheritance rights to women.
On April 6, 2013, Hefajat leaders and activists marched towards Dhaka and held a rally at Shapla Chattar with a 13-point demand, including enactment of anti-blasphemy act and stringent punishment of "atheist bloggers".
Then came the May 5 mayhem.
As Hefajat activists turned increasingly violent and kept Motijheel occupied for nearly 12 hours after their rally there on May 5, 2013, law enforcers swung into action after midnight and drove them away.