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Bangladesh’s Islamist Challenge Worrying For Hasina, India


After it was crushed by determined police action in May 2013  , the Hifazat-e-Islam is back in news for the  violent protests it orchestrated against Indian PM Narendra Modi’s Bangladesh visit. 
Despite a dozen followers dying in police firings, the Hifazat appears undeterred.  Its supporters are targetting secular institutions like the Music Academy in the Brahmanbaria home of classic music legend Allaudin Khan, which was set ablaze along with an old public library in the area . 
But Hifazat followers have also attacked mosques and forced devotees to join their violent protests aimed at toppling the Hasina Wajed government  , now basking in the global applause for the country’s economic and human development , which is symbolized by the UN upgradation of Bangladesh from the ‘Least Developed Country ‘ to ‘Developing Nation’ . 
Bangladesh and Indian intelligence reports indicate a surge in the Hifazat’s cadre base drawn essentially from Qaumi madrassas it controls and use of weapons during the recent violence point to increasing armed action it may resort to in future.
 Modi’s visit was the latest in line of the  Hifazat violent public protests since the Awami League returned to power two years ago.
The first wave of the protests was directed against installation of statues of the country’s founder Sheikh Mujibur Rehman in his birth centenary year. Then came the Hifazat encirclement of  the French embassy in Dhaka where they burnt President Macron’s effigies to protest the government action after the beheadings in France. Their street protests raged alongside a furious social media campaign by anti- India and anti-Awami League netizens  against Indian vaccines . 
There lies the catch.  Elements in  Bangladesh’s pro-,Western  civil society and activists from the country’s Islamist eco-system appear to be on same page on the regime change and anti-Indian agenda.
The irony of this marraige of convenience is nowhere more striking than in the activity of British lobbyist David Bergman.  Married to former Bangladesh minister Kamal Hossain’s daughter .  Bergman describe violent Hifazat radicals as ‘peaceful protestors in his columns and pull up the police for firing on them, overlooking the involvement of their clergymen in most of the 636 cases of child sex abuse in Qaumi madrassas they control. Live pictures of the child sex abuse have been circulated by Awami Leaguers on social media, as the ruling party desperately seeks to fight back the strongest challenge by Islamist radicals since the crushing of the Hifazat in 2013 and the defeat of the BNP-Jamaat alliance in the 2014 polls.
Bangladesh’s Islamist political eco-systemrange from the opposition and rabidly pro-Pakistan BNP and Jamaat-e- Islami to the overground Islamist radical groups like Hifazat-e-Islam and Khilafat-e-Majlis to the underground jihadi terror groups like JMB and Ansarullah Bangla. The Hifazat now has come to occupy a central position in this eco-system which is sworn to create an Islamist Bangladesh by undermining the secularist values of the 1971 Liberation War. The Awami League’s tactical mistake of trying to cultivate the Hifazat to counter the pro-Pakistan Jamaat-e-Islami ahead of the 2019 parliament has helped the clergy-driven Islamist group to bounce back as a political force. 
But after the Modi visit violence,  Hasina has made it clear the Hifazat will be crushed if it tried to instigate mob violence. Cases against Hifazat leaders and the expose of its poster boy Mamunul Huq in a sex scandal at Narayanganj  alongside that of the child sex abuse in Hifazat dominated madrassas by Awami net warriors are clear pointers.The government has now called for bank account details of 54 Hifazat leaders to check on allegations of Pakistani funding for the radicals, amidst some evidence of ISI funding for the anti-Modi protests.
What helps the Islamist radical cause and weakens the secular politics  in Bangladesh is the rise of Hindutva politics in India . The fever-pitch anti-Bangladesh campaign by even senior BJP politicians discomfort Sheikh Hasina and her party which was doubtlessly closer to Congress for reasons of ideology and history.
 While Modi talks of Mujibur Rahman as the ‘game-changer’ for South Asian politics when in Dhaka, his Home Minister Amit Shah demonises Bangladeshi migrants as ‘termites.’ The anti-infiltration tirade by the BJP in the West Bengal and Assam elections and the drum beating of ‘Muslim appeasement’ triggers anti-Indian passions in Bangladesh that not only rattles Hasina but should worry Delhi.  Bangladeshis are right to speak of illegal migration to India in past tense , when the country was described as a ‘basket case’ by Kissinger. Now, half a million Indians work in Bangladesh and Bangladeshis make up for 23%  of India’s tourist arrivals, spending much more money in the country than rich Westerners or East Asians.
Modi-Shah’s  Hindutva brigade must take a larger strategic perspective on Delhi’s  Act East thrust , which won’t work without a friendly Bangladesh and which can be boosted by  Bangladesh’s phenomenal economic growth. The World Bank report “Connectivity to Thrive” projects India’s and Bangladesh’s national incone growing by 8 to 10 percent in this decade if seamless transport connectivity is ensured. Bangladesh is an opportunity , not a liability and the sooner the shenanigans in Delhi realise it the better. The saffron fallacy of equating Bangladesh with Pakistan on a ridiculous religious binary better be buried if India’s Act East is to get some traction.  
 Mamata Banerjee missed out on that opportunity of leveraging Bangladesh’s economic growth for some in her own state by playing domestic politics over the proposed Teesta water sharing agreement. On the other hand, West Bengal became the extended sanctuary of Bangladesh’s Islamist radicals when they fled Hasina’s furious crackdown.
Hasina kept pitching for determined Indian action against the Islamist radicals like her forces had.  She has delivered on all of India’s security and connectivity concerns. For Delhi, it is now payback time.

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