A debate is raging over Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina joining a programme of Islamic clerics-teachers, who are mostly supported by the ‘Tamarind Huzur (Tetul Huzur),’ the Hefazat-e-Islam leader Moulana Allama Ahmed Shafi.
We are by nature emotional and react very quickly to any development without trying to analyse the pros and cons of most issues.
One Facebook status read “The final burial of secular Bangladesh,” while another said “Following Khaleda Zia’s footsteps to stay in power.”
It set me thinking too, but knowing the lady I could sense that the real game was being played backstage. The game that would not only see her emerge as an eventual winner, but Bangladesh on the winning side as well.
By initiating the talks as the leader of the 14-Party Alliance, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina surprised her opponents and critics who thought it would all be just another no-result drama thus they went all out to damn her.
Now, some of these critics are admitting that the process she began by launching the talks has removed much of the earlier uncertainty and the general fear of violence. The most difficult demands may be put forward, but solutions must follow principles that are legally permitted in our constitution.
As I write, the Oikkya Front, of which the opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) is the major component, will again sit across the table with its unfulfilled demands’— mainly the release of its jailed chairman Khaleda Zia.
It appears that too might happen as legal experts are working on possible means to get her out of jail and if she is freed eventually, then all roads will read to an “inclusive” election, which would strengthen democracy and not slow down the pace of development.
Coming back to the Hefazat issue, the question certainly arises how a dialogue with it is possible. I followed our prime minister's words during that event. Her confidence projected the message , “major mission accomplished.” her smile indicated that she was a very good mood that made me wonder why she had taken the initiative to begin this dialogue, being fully aware that there would be massive criticism to follow.
Here are my thoughts:
Politics is no easy game. Those who are brave enough to take risks are the real leaders. Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has taken that risk.
The other sort of politics is to find ways to remain in power by any means. This step might have momentarily upset many people but she took the risk and also became the “Mother of Qawmi.” Avowed Muslims, the target of her message, would now begin to see her in the role of a mother of the people.
The Hefazat is now off from her list of political threats just ahead of the polls and this will be a major blow for the anti-Awami League islamist groups.
The move has further isolated the fundamentalist Jamaat-e-Islami which has been described as a terrorist group by a Canadian court and some international organisations. Jamaat has lost its right to fight in elections and thus Hefazat becomes the strongest Islamic group. The anti-independence, war-criminal dominated Jamaat is out, at least for now.
The Awami League has ensured two more gains: a) The politics is greatly cleaned from anti-independence elements, and b) the main rival of ruling Awami League, the BNP has lost its main ally— in terms of street-wise strength. BNP does not have many courageous leaders to face opponents or security forces on the streets.
c) Thus BNP cannot launch any meaningful street protest to unseat Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and now has to join elections with whatever the premier is ready to give.
The Islamic world, including those who backed Jamaat, would now consider the premier as the leader who is also an avowed Muslim, which she is in real life and never mind that BNP had tried to become the bearer of the Islamic torch in Muslim-majority Bangladesh.
For those of us who do not want Jamaat or a BNP that is backed by Jamaat to return to power must welcome this landmark historic move by the prime minister.
Now, what will her critics say? They have to admit she has killed many birds with one stone.
Add a little sugar to the tamarind and it will be a new recipe!
Nadeem Qadir is a UN Dag Hammarskjold Fellow.