Shahbagh; is it a Revolution?

The Shahbagh Chottor now fondly called “the Projonmo Square” sounds and looks like a people’s movement mainly by the young people of many walks of life and political beliefs. Their slogan started with the capital punishment for the defendants found guilty by the ICT. Their demand that the laws be changed to hang Kader Mollah, one of the suspected war criminals instead of the life sentence, he received. In slogans and interviews, this is what evolved in all these seven days of protests.

The protesters were helped and aided by the sympathetic administration, the police and educational institutions. In many gatherings throughout the nation, one could see minors led by parents or aided by their teachers participating with banner saying “Death to Kader Mollah” or “hang Kader Mollah”. Young leaders who are emerging likened this uprising of the youth against the established political organizations.

Apart from the media in Bangladesh, the international coverage of this uproar was limited. This did not seem to catch the wind of the Arab Spring as some of these demonstrators would like to call it. It appeared well organized and perhaps planned for a while.

While the opposition was not getting permission to hold protest marches in the roads and public places, these groups not only got a great treatment but also huge coverage from the media. While the leadership of the ruling party was clearly supporting the protesters, the main opposition party has refrained from making any serious comments.

Sadeque Hossain Khoka on Saturday getting a rousing reception, urged the organizers at Shahbagh to press for “a non-partisan government for the next general elections along with the demand for trials of the war criminals”. The senior BNP leader urged the youths to raise their voice against corruption. “The protestors at the rally should also ask as to why Biswajit Das was killed?”

The former Mayor of Dhaka, alleged that “Sheikh Hasina wants to retain power through a partisan election. The youth must lend their voice against such a move along with the people of the country.”

BNP’s Acting Secretary General Mirza Fakhrul Islam Alamgir was alongside Khoka when the later commented on the Shahbagh rally. But Mirza Fakhrusl Islam Alamgir refrained from making any comment on the protest rally at Shahbagh.

However, BNP’s student affiliate, Jatiyatabadi Chhatra Dal had said on Wednesday that the protest at Shahbagh was being staged based on an “understanding” with the Awami League-led Grand Alliance government.

While it sound and looks like a mass or youth uprising likened by some to 1971 movements or Tahrir Square, so far there is no comparison. The movement’s backbone is slowly emerging when one sees amongst them educationists, leading freedom fighters and other leaders of the civil society who may not be direct Awami League or affiliated party cadres; nonetheless, they are stalwart ruling party supporters and hate the BNP and Jamaat. One could conclude at this juncture that it is a ruling party supported movement.

Just invoking capital punishment for alleged war criminals may not make this into a national uprising to be likened to the 1971 movement for our independence. While it is nice to think that way, Bangladesh actually needs an uprising whereby all citizens should rise up in unison to reclaim their democracy. Shahbagh has not seen any banners attacking the prevailing corruption and behavior of the rogue student organizations supported by the ruling party or the opposition parties.

It does not smell like a national movement where people from all walks of life and beliefs are participating. The main slogans are for death penalty regardless of judicial outcome and banning of certain political parties. Certainly there are merits to these issues, but main issues are rampant corruption and breakdown of the justice system and uncertainty about the upcoming election under an impartial organization be it a caretaker government or an election commission agreed to by all parties in the equation. In addition, the people need safety of life, justice, accident free workplace and roads, corruption free institutions and revival of the quality in the education system.

The Bangladesh Chronicle


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