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Hathazari uprising raises questions in Bangladesh

Hefazat-e-Islam chief Allama Shah Ahmed Shafi

The dramatic Hathazari uprising has opened a Pandora’s box of questions. Who were pulling the strings from behind the scenes? What was their motive? And who is this Osama Muhammad whose Facebook ID created such a ruckus? Who are the ones actually behind this ID? In whose hands lie the controls? What instigated thousands of students to overnight reject Allama Shafi who had been firmly at the helm for three decades?

It is said that a continuous stream of posts from 10 fake Facebook IDs lead to this uprising. Of course, many want to give credit solely to Osama Muhammad for this ‘coup’. Then again, it is also said that there are national and international forces behind Osama Muhammad. Intelligence reports sent from the scene of the happening indicate there was a foreign force actively manipulating the events. But what was their objective? To put the government under pressure and reap geopolitical benefits?

That is not an implausible conjecture. After all, geopolitical significance was attached to the unfolding events. Allama Shafi and his son Anas Madani, loyal to the government, had to step down in just a matter of a 48-hour whirlwind movement. It was seemingly incredible. 

Quarters within the administration played a rather furtive role, investigations reveal.

Allama Shafi had absolute and unilateral power. He led the qawmi movement single-handedly and unquestioned from the headquarters in Hathazari. He had arrived there as a student when he was just 10 years old. His three-decade rule was one-sided and discriminatory. But is seems impossible, even unbelievable, that he had to step down, bearing the shame of his son’s corruption.

The leadership within the madrasa had been simmering with anger over the rampant corruption on the institution. They attempted to challenge Allama Shafi but were time and again thwarted. Then when the time was ripe, a ‘third force’ swooped down and smashed Shafi’s command. Tables turned and Shafi stepped down in tears.

And within 72 hours of his ignominious exit, Allama Shafi breathed his last. It was a leaflet that had made all the difference, some say. Who prepared this leaflet? Was it drawn up before the movement was even planned? Intelligence reports say that 80 per cent of the madrasa students took part in the movement. Who organised them? 

The Shapla Chattar movement had fallen flat. Why did that movement fail? Speculations still circulate about that. Turncoats, Allama Shafi and his son Madani joined hands with the government and so that movement fizzled out.

And now, this Hathazari uprising has given rise to a fresh volley of speculations. Why had the intelligence agencies not caught a whiff of what has conspiring? That has puzzled the government and introduced a note of unease. Investigations are being made into who had poured in the funds, where was the 15 September meeting held and who were part of the meeting?

It may be recalled that Hefazat had risen up at the time of the Shahbagh movement. There had been posts on the social media that the Shahbagh movement was being carried out by a group of atheists. That was when Hefazat-e-Islam came into the scene, demanding that the atheists be tried.

On 5 May 2013 they had rallied together in a historic gathering at Shapla Chattar in the capital city of Dhaka. They presented a 13-point demand at the rally and called for the government to step down. This resulted in ‘Operation Secure Shapla’ in which the government silenced Hefazat. Two opposing groups emerged within Hefazat. Allama Shafi and his son were on the government side. Allama Junaid Babunagari and others opposed them. These anti-government elements were waiting for an opportunity to oust Allama Shafi.

The students began to realise that Allama Shafi’s son Anas Madani had amassed wealth through corrupt means. The teachers too were fed up with their highhandedness. Their open allegiance towards the government annoyed 70 per cent of the madrasa students.

Meanwhile, an outside force monitored the developments. They drew up plans accordingly. A meeting was held in Dhanmondi and that is said to be the turning point. Other than the Hefazat leaders, an eminent leader of the other side turned up at the meeting and declared his support for the students’ movement. He even had to face charges.

Earlier, on 3 September, an important meeting was held at a mess in Farhadabad of Hathazari. That was basically where the actual plans for the movement were prepared.

The leaflet was printed at a press in Fakirapool of Dhaka. The intelligence agencies raided the press several times. Sensing foreign intervention, the government adopted two strategies. One, not to exert force, but to maintain peace. Two, to let Allama Shafi and his gang step down. The end was to gain control.

There have been speculations too about the presence of Jamaat-e-Islami at Allama Shafi’s janaza (funeral rites). Did Jamaat have anything to do with the movement? Intelligence activities were stepped up and an eye was kept on foreign forces.

The government had planned to select a leader within a month. The election was on 3 October. At the election, the qawmi board was reorganised in keeping with the government’s wishes. The opposition realisedthis, but were helpless. Director general of the Jatrabari madrasa, Maulana Mahmudul Hasan, gained power. Supporters of the Charmonaipir, rather surprisingly, supported Mahmudul Hasan.

The voting at this election was much in lines of the national election in Bangladesh, though no one dared to protest aloud.

Things are calm, for the moment. But the silence shouts out the unanswered question – who wanted to reap geopolitical benefits from this movement?


Matiur Rahman Chowdhury is a senior journalist of Bangladesh, editor of the daily Manabzamin, popular TV host and renowned political and regional analyst.