One after another, Hefazat Islam (HI) is winning its battles and the urban secularist middle class is losing theirs.
HI was once the group everyone hated, but it has scored more practical socio-political victories than the entire middle class since 2013.
And that too after Gonojagoron Mancha -- its most strident expression -- mounted Shahbagh, the great revivalist event of 1971 in 2013.
Mancha was iconised and became the symbol of the “spirit of 71.” When Hefazat did their sit-in, they were kicked out of Dhaka by the police.
But four years later, it’s the rural madrassa boys with their 13-point demand sheet and tamarind that is AL’s most dependable ally, while GJM has faded away.
GJM went to live on Facebook and remained there, while Hafazat went back to the villages and got stronger. Will the AL bother with what the middle class thinks as the latest tangle over the statue in front of the Supreme Court takes place?
The decline of the middle in politics
The rural middle and elite have expanded significantly, which led to the rise of Hefazat-type organisations anyway. Meanwhile, the urban middle’s influence is floundering in an era of jobless growth.
The urban middle is a political orphan which can’t organise itself, is politically diffident, and caught in a mid-level trap of consumerism. The Tagorean middle class died with 1971 and it never even noticed its own demise.
The constitution of 1972 was perhaps their first and last hurrah, but, as history shows, it lasted barely two years. And in that period, this middle endorsed the rise of extra-judicial and other killings in the name of security, chaos-capitalism in the name of rewarding the warriors, and one-party rule in the name of patriotism, to name a few.
If you can’t bring the crowds to the rally, you don’t matter. The middle is enfeebled by its own lack of political organisational spine. The party it supports is an ally of their enemy. Therefore, AL can live without them. It doesn’t need Tagore, it needs Hefazat
It claimed the Liberation War as a great cultural victory but ignored the contributions of the rural population. Were they really middle anymore?
When BAKSAL was established, they thronged the streets to join it, but when Sheikh Mujib was killed, they stayed home.
One need not be a rocket scientist to know how dependable an ally they are. And AL knows that too.
The rise of the rural classes
As the middle is caught between cheap editions of consumerism and devotion to virtuality, the rural middle and elite have grown with a culture that is not drawn from colonial Kolkata roots which fed our traditional middle.
And this increasingly aggressive rural culture, fed by heavy doses of virtual Islam, is worth having as an ally.
Their sheer size and urban-rural connectivity makes them impossible to ignore.
The new rural elite have their feet in both zones. The recent party-supported UP chairman is from this group.
Meanwhile, the urban poor have been coming into Dhaka for years, and now, taken together, it’s the rural people who are a majority in the urban zones too.
This population is loyal to faith identities and they are not against the Hefazat.
Why should the AL not seek their support when they are quite happy to support them back?
The AL-HI understanding
The anti-Hefazat middle has no mobilisation power of their own and wants the AL to crush them.
But AL wants to stay in power and doesn’t think the Hefazat is a threat bigger than the BNP-JI at the time of votes. The Hefazot is not a political force but an enabling ally which makes AL look more Islamic.
BNP tried to topple AL by using them, but failed. Now AL is using them to keep BNP out.
If you can’t bring the crowds to the rally, you don’t matter. The middle is enfeebled by its own lack of political organisational spine. The party it supports is an ally of their enemy.
Therefore, AL can live without them. It doesn’t need Tagore, it needs Hefazat.
AL has adopted a political strategy to stay in power and, in that scheme of things, the urban Tagorean middle doesn’t play a big role.
So a statue in front of the Supreme Court will draw Hefazat ire, but in this mutually convenient relationship, it’s not going to topple anyone or anything.
Both need each other.
Afsan Chowdhury is a journalist and a researcher.