There is a formidable advantage in being perceived as someone who does not tolerate certain actions, ideologies, or individuals. You can get away doing exactly the opposite.
Sheikh Hasina Wazed, daughter of the liberator of Bangladesh ‘Bangabondhu’ Mujibur Rahman and the nation’s current prime minister, is credited with bringing to justice the Islamists who killed her father and millions who rose against Pakistani occupation in 1971. She is favoured by India for taming the flames of jihad and cracking down on terrorist groups. She is admittedly as secular as the head of an Islamic nation with a violent history can be.
This gives her great latitude to often do the opposite.
A spate of recent and ongoing attacks against Hindus in Bangladesh proves that the administration, which otherwise handles dissent with an iron hand, continues to allow enough elbow room and leg space to the decades-old bloodlust against minorities.
Is it a coincidence that the current attacks began in Comilla hours after a massive Jamaat rally snaked through Dhaka after long? Jamaat have been operating mostly underground since Hasina’s ruthless pursuit of Islamists. But lately, Jamaat’s IT cell, Basher Kella (Fortress of Bamboo) which runs mainly from the UK, has gotten extremely active in its anti-India, anti-Hindu propaganda.
The more sinister bit is that the Comilla attacks happened in the bastion of local Awami League (AL) MP AKM Bahauddin Bahar, who is apparently in Saudi Arabia for Hajj. Bahar is not a weak leader. It is extremely difficult to carry out such carnage in his area without his knowledge. Ironically, the local Hindus had widely voted for Bahar in the last elections.
Hindus accounted for 28 percent of Bangladesh’s population (then East Pakistan) before Partition in the early 1940s. It has dwindled to 7-8 percent, with waves of violence in each decade. Incidentally, the Muslim population in India — the neighbour Islamist groups in Bangladesh often accuse of being minority-intolerant — has risen from 9.8 percent in 1947 to about 14.2 percent in the 2011 Census.
Sheikh Hasina earned her image as someone who does not suffer Islamists. The ruling Awami League-supported Shahbag Movement of 2013 sought capital punishment for 1971 war criminal Abdul Qader Molla. Molla was hanged.
She dismantled the Jamaati ecosystem in institutions like the Islami Bank and Ibn Sina Hospital, bringing them under her control.
After the 2016 Holey Artisan Bakery terror attack in which IS claimed responsibility, Rapid Action Battalion (RAB) and other agencies tore into local IS and Jamaat-ul Mujahideen Bangladesh (JMB) cells. Hasina personally oversaw the swift and efficient crackdown.
But while all that was happening, the prime minister was also accommodating the Islamist Hefazat-e-Islam, reinvigorating its vast network of Qaumi madrassas and acquiescing to its demand of removing a woman’s statue from in front of the Supreme Court in Dhaka.
Some observers say that the ruling Awami League has flirted with Jamaat for electoral gains. AL’s student wing Chhatra League leaders have sometimes been accused of attacking Hindus.
Hasina has crushed her opposition, the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP). Its leader, 76-year-old Khaleda Zia, is in and out of jail. Her son Tarique Rahman is a fugitive from the law, living in exile in the UK. Tarique's lawyer daughter Zaima, who also lives in the UK, is the only one who is so far clean and can take the reins of the party in the unforeseeable future.
BNP’s reluctance to sever its friendship with the Jamaat, which it sees as the last straw, has turned international support away. AL seems to be playing a smarter game, leaving enough space for radicals to tactically side with her when needed.
Sheikh Hasina does not want to do away with Islamism. She wants the attack dog to be on her leash, bite when she loosens it, and curl up when she tightens it again.
But jihad is not a pliant canine. It is a monster that ultimately turns on the hand that holds its leash. No good can come of allowing that monster to maul the weak and innocent.