The issue of Mamunul Huq, a visitor to a resort with a lady in tow, who he claimed was his wife and the following events is full of drama also sharpens the political chemistry brewing in Bangladesh. What followed the do at the resort was even more dramatic as phone calls were released on social media, one after another showing that those who listen but can’t be named were deeply involved.
It seemed to shock some that media got involved particularly Ekattur TV which has always been the closest to the powers that be. Social media as expected went on a hyper mode. It was an indication of things that were not going to happen but already had. It was capped by two announcements. The PM declared in the parliament that Huq had been found in a resort with a “parlour girl”. It was followed by the Home Minister declaring that the lady found was not his wife. It was definitely soap opera at its highest.
Of leaked conversations
Much more followed including tape after tape of conversations between Huq and his wife telling her to tell others that the lady was his wife though he mentioned another as her husband. It’s now found she was divorced from the said person though the marital status is still hazy.
A conversation between him and the lady was obviously between two persons of shared familiarity and intimacy certainly not a hooker as some were saying. Another tape between the lady and her son was more complicated showing resentment of her children, family conflict and a woman caught in a very difficult and helpless situation. Finally, the son came on a FB live and without mentioning the status of his mother’s marriage blamed Huq for breaking up his parents’ marriage. He added that he made a pass at his mother several years back. The son painted the portrait of a man basically lusting after his mother.
Hefazot didn’t take all this lying down. Even as Huq was being ‘interrogated” by media inside the resort, the loyalists were getting together and when Huq was being taken elsewhere by the police leaving the lady behind, he was snatched away by Hefazot loyalists. Subsequently, Hefazot high command endorsed his marriage and lent support. Meanwhile, another leaked tape was between two leaders discussing how to minimize damage of the incident on Hefazot.
Young loyalists have also attacked police and media sporadically in different places, Facebook is full of support for Hefazot and a police official who stood up for Hefazot has been transferred. But obviously, it’s not between two social or political forces but between Hefazot and the state. It’s a game bigger than the one Hefazot wants to play because it’s not the political activists who are involved but the state agencies.
Hefazot will try all kinds of damage control but Huq-the leading face of Hefazot resistance against the AL state run by Sk. Hasina is severely damaged in the short run. But the point is, he is too small a fish to deserve so much attention. Nor is the objective destruction of Hefazot the as it’s the most organized rural force, now almost political in identity. One speculation could be is that the target is Babunagri who defied counsel of the government and took over Hefazot when the AL government was backing Allama Shafi’s son. Huq is a loyalist of the Babunagri camp. Hefazot has been drifted away from its alliance with the AL since 2013 after the shapla chattor encounter and that is the key to the crisis.
The Middle class position
Hefazot is seen as the archetypical anti-secular force though no one is sure what “secular” means. Hefazot is a body of clerics who have been a beneficiary of rural economic development. They are mostly madrassa runners and mosque leaders. At one level they do have power as it’s a social organization rooted in the rural aspirant class but it’s not a theological Islamist force but a social one. In some ways it has similarity with the middle peasantry under colonialism who no matter how disliked could not be ignored.
But there is a difference. While the middle peasantry had a significant material economic base, the Hefazot is a group produced by charity and the religious economy. Its power is more socio-political than economic and that is its weak point. Its strength is its network which includes the mosques and madrassas its controls. Thus it has both vulnerability and capacity. Its capacity can be useful for the ruling class. And its vulnerability can also be useful to keep it under control.
Once Hefazot challenged the government the situation became more conflicted than before. And that conflict peaked before the arrival of Modi around the Sk. Mujib statue issue. When Modi arrived, the demos and agitation helped the Government send a signal that Modi/India was unpopular while Sk. Hasina was officially playing host to him. That emboldened Hefazot and one leader its most aggressive, decided to take a nap and the rest is known.
The Government needs Hefazot as its ally not contestant. It’s very useful to have a readymade loyalist outfit And that is why it will not tolerate an independent minded Hefazot that can challenge it. It appears that the group was given enough rope to entangle itself and now is not looking too good. It also shows that the agencies have penetrated the outfit and the outfit itself has little idea how the digital world operates. For the moment the ruling powers looks more comfortable.
Can Hefazot recover?
The first phase was one of alliance which lasted till Allama Shafit lasted. The second phase is one of hostility that began with the Babunagri era. Unlike the BNP, the government has no deep rooted history of hostility with it. Hefazot has under estimated the powers of the state. The AL will play along and not get into a fight as it doesn’t need to. But it will certainly want to /need to control it. That’s where max energy will be spent.
Hefazot will survive but unless it’s a compliant Hefazot, life won’t be easy for this group. The AL will not mind giving it a junior seat in the power cluster below the AL politicians, the fifth seat so to speak. But it will insist on having a finger on the eject button too. How that will be played out remains to be seen.