Islamists’ tough threat, soft program

Mostafa Kamal MajumderThe grand rally organised by the Hefazate Islam in Dhaka yesterday merits being weighed not merely for the deadline given till 05 May for the realisation of their demands, but for the efficient assemblage of the huge audience that gathered despite the absence of transport vehicles on roads and its peaceful dispersal dropping previous warnings of retribution in case the Dhaka march was obstructed.The protesters who had to come on foot from different corners of the metropolis as well as inter-district routes were frenzied against blasphemous bloggers for their postings on Internet sites, and looked prepared to go to any length to press their demand for capital punishment of the offenders and restoration of ‘Absolute faith in Allah Almighty’ in the Constitution.
The organisers managed to send them back to their places of origin before sunset calling dawn to dusk hartal (general strike) for April 8 under some pressure. The grand rally was the biggest one in recent times in the metropolis of 13 million people.
The withdrawal of all buses, launches, steamers, and the suspension of at least ten Dhaka bound passenger trains that followed the enforcement of 24-hour hartal from Friday evening, were enough to seal the fate of the rally as a failure, but that was not to be the case. The protesters braved all obstacles and their processions were still reaching Motijheel and Dilkusha areas when the orgnisers closed the proceedings after voicing some tough words against the government and giving it the deadline to fulfill their demands.
The unprecedented hartal enforced from Friday dusk, gave the impression ordinarily one gets when curfew is clamped to contain rowdy situations. Thousands of members of the traveling public were stranded on streets as buses, mini-buses, taxis and human haulers sped to their parks.
Pro-hartal activists brought out torch processions at different corners of the metropolis late that afternoon chanting slogans against the plying of motor vehicles and thus limiting the liberty of motor vehicles operators who preferred not to take chances. The leaders of Bus-Truck owners’ association had earlier announced their decisions to withdraw their vehicles from streets in view of the hartal.
Private cars did start disappearing from streets much before. When the darkness of the evening set in, vehicular traffic on the streets was thin with only rickshaws taking short distance trips and some cng auto-rickshaws carrying passengers on ways back to their parking lots. Never before in the history of Bangladesh enforcement hartal began from dusk and that too in the weekend.
The Hefazate Islam followers by their sheer numbers drove home the point that their demands should get priority attention of the government which, acting on their demands, has already arrested some bloggers for making blasphemous postings. The arrests on the other hand have led to reactions from the shahbagh protesters and some left political parties which have termed the action as an attack on freedom of expression.
There was a sigh of relief among well-meaning members of the public that the grand rally did not lead to continuous hartals or sit-in demonstration at the same venue for an indefinite period as was the threat in case their long march and rally was obstructed. Leaders of Hefazate Islam blamed the government for obstructing their long march, but were apparently content with the permission given to hold the rally.
The administration should take the cue from the mode of placement of their demands in that instead of showing defiance, the Hefazat leaders called for positive actions from the government for an amicable settlement. Because, this coalition of Islamists from all over the country has no political ambitions, and can be pursued to soften stance through dialogue and remedial measures.
(Dhaka, 06 April 13. First published in The New Nation)

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