Bangladesh: Restructuring of Hefazat-e-Islam
After facing a huge leadership crisis due to the arrests of its top leaders in March 2021, mainly due to violent protests and media allegations about its radical activities, the HeI attempted to rebuild its image by restructuring the organisation. The new Secretary-General of Hefazat-e-Islam, Nurul Islam Jihadi, announced a new central committee (CC) formation at a press briefing at Al Jamiatul Islamia Makhzanul Uloom Madrasa in Khilgaon, Dhaka on June 7. The new CC has 33 members, with Junaid Babunagari as its chief (Ameer). The HeI has, in fact, dropped all controversial leaders from the CC, including Mamunul Haque, who has been in jail for inciting violence during the visit of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi to Bangladesh in March.
Hefazat has also announced its 16-member advisory committee with Babunagari as its chief. It also announced a nine-member Central Khas Committee, considered to be the Hathazari-based group’s “Majlish e-Sura.”
Following are the other leaders who are given responsibilities in the new CC:
- Maulana Ataullah Hafezi, nayeb-e-ameer.
- Maulana Sajedur Rahman, joint secretary-general.
- Maulana Mir Idris, organising secretary.
- Maulana Muhiuddin Rabbani, publicity secretary.
After assuming charge, Junaid Babunagari had a meeting with Home Minister Asaduzzaman Khan. Although the details of the meeting have not been disclosed, it is assumed that Babunagari might have discussed ways of preventing further arrests of the party members and release of the arrested leaders along with the withdrawal of the cases against them. Earlier, Nurul, who has also been prosecuted in some of the cases, met the home minister of Bangladesh twice formally since April 19) and placed a set of demands. The HeI leaders have met the home minister thrice since the March incident.
On April 25, 2021, Junaid Babunagari had dissolved the CC following the advice of senior Hefazat leaders, considering the overall situation in Bangladesh in the post-March period. At least 77 cases were filed against Hefazat leaders and activists across the country over the clashes and vandalism. More than 69,000 people were accused in the cases. Two cases were also filed against Babungari in connection with his alleged involvement in the violence in Hathazari. The Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) also launched an investigation against more than 50 leaders of Hefazat, including Babunagari and Mamunul, on charges of embezzlement and corruption.
Moreover, after the March incident, many HeI leaders have left the organisation. For example, HeI Brahmanbaria District unit Joint Secretary Mufti Abdur Rahim Qasemi resigned from the organisation and sought justice over the mayhem carried out by the leaders and activists in the district during the days of hartal. In addition, the highest policy-making body of the country’s Qawmi madrasas, Al-Hayatul Ulaya Lil Jamiatil Qawmia Bangladesh, on April 25, slapped a ban on student and teacher politics across the country.
First, the restructuring of the HeI is a message to its critics that the organisation does not encourage violence, and it rejects the leaders who have indulged in violent protests earlier. Second, the restructuring also allowed Babunagari to keep his rivals at bay and assign key roles to his relatives and loyal ones. Third, the organisation could prevent further government action against the senior party leaders and cadres by appointing new members.
However, despite the changes in the HeI, some major challenges like preventing Babunagari from police arrest, moderating its views on minorities and Sharia law, snapping linkages with Pakistan, and operating madrasas within the government guidelines would continue.
This brief is part of the South Asia Conflict Monitor, July 2021.