Popularity of the Shahbagh protests emboldened their leadership to continue until the long arm of justice is fully applied to the war criminals. Only punishment that seems to satisfy them is death to all war criminals. They do not state how many war criminals and whether it should be extended to all the criminals who are still alive. As the days pass, the demonstrations are becoming controversial and now a major opposition party BNP has declared, the bloggers are taking a political side at a time when the country needs to puts its energies into organizing a fair and free national election.
Did the Shahbagh movement come to create pressure during this critical time of electioneering? Is it tilting towards the ruling party who are making all available strategies to win another five years to sink in their agendas almost permanently, even though the other half of the population may prefer other options. Is this group trying to right a wrong which remained a quandary to the founding father as well as the other rulers thereafter?
As is, ICT’s formation and their judicial process was subject to a lot of criticism and to top it up, it has been made more complicated by the ministers and the party bosses making irresponsible statements about the status of the verdicts. The Prime Minister did not exhibit good leadership in preventing these loose mouthed ministers from making statements that made the work of the ICT difficult and consequently more controversial.
In this regard, we feel that it is time for the Shahbagh movement to be streamlined. It started back in February 5, 2013 and has gained colossal popularity in the capital city of Dhaka. Now they want to take on their agendas to other cities and eventually into villages. While attempting to accomplish their dreams, the organizers may become very controversial if they converge with a political party.
This was a small group who regularly congregated through their blogs and sporadically voiced their opinions through smaller public demonstrations in the past. But by having a success of this massive proportion, they became emboldened into launching more ambitious programs.
They expanded their demands to shutting down of a political party Jamaat and their student wing Shibir, newspaper Amar Desh and jail its editor, ban Islamic banks and similar Islamic institutions, all included in their six point program. From a humble start, this gigantic success has made them a prize organization with courtship from the powerful ruling party. From the language, slogans and the friendly overtures from the government, one gets a feeling that this group is part of the ruling coalition. One could see the ruling party leaders and organizers of various ruling coalition friendly organizations freely intermingling, cooperating, advising and supporting this group. At this time of electioneering by the major parties and especially for a major opposition party BNP, the Shahbagh movement is interrupting their political ambitions by seemingly siding with the Awami League and allied parties. All actions demonstrate a complicity of the Shahbagh crowd with the ruling parties.
There is no evidence of any youth, the student groups or organizations of the opposition coalition cooperating with the Shahbagh demonstrators. While the ruling coalition lauded the Shahbagh movement, the opposition could not digest their agendas and the motives. Even though their main spokesperson Dr. Imran Hossain Sarkar is saying they are neutral and have no grudge or designs against the opposition leaderships, however, actions speak louder than words. There are veiled threats in his tone of voice which is delivered with diplomatic courtesy. Thanks to the great coaching and support from his backers in high places; educators, politicians, capitalists and the media, his group enjoys a unique space in the thought process of the Bangladeshi youth.
Suddenly one could also see most media with the exception of a handful, singing the song choreographed by the ruling parties. Some commentators found similarities of the 1972-75 Awami league rule that saw shutting down free competitive media leading to a brutal one party government. Some of the Architects of that regime of one party system are still alive and probably providing similar advice to the daughter of our founding father who was killed in 1975.
At this juncture, the country is in a precarious position and will need to resolve its election process first. Our country has developed a system where politics is decided on the street rather than the parliament. Our politicians have done a disservice to the nation by not taking the parliament seriously. Whenever they lose power, they take refuge in the streets. A good hartal (demonstration) is identified with burning of cars and busses, exploding of cocktail bombs and disrupting the transport system and economic lifeline of the country. The culture of hartals must be replaced with legally peaceful demonstrations of political dissent. The security forces must protect the peaceful demonstrators just like what they did to the Shahbagh crowd.
People have been programmed to disruptive demonstrations; otherwise, they think the hartal was not successful. Shahbagh reversed this phenomenon and hopefully this peaceful way to express political positions will be the norm in the future. Our government should entertain such peaceful protests and also provide protection to the peaceful demonstrators.
While on one hand the government showered blessings to the Shahbagh crowd, it brutally suppressed opposition demonstrators with their party workers stalking them and planting scenarios of mayhem. Many opposition leaders alleged that these workers mixed in clandestinely alongside the police, dropping few cocktail bombs here and there and other miscreant activities to make belief that these were done by the opposition; a good set up for placing unlimited legal cordon around the opposition leaders. Even the most peaceful demonstrations were met with real bullets and killings in their midst.
The Shahbagh group can achieve all their demands through their facilitating ruling party; all of them, one by one. It is as easy as that. Then why are they not demanding this gift from all powerful ruling coalition? One could ask do they know what they are doing. Or are they doing what the elders are telling them to do? Hate campaign to dismantle Jamaat/Shibir from everywhere including the villages should not be their program or mandate. Do we need the Gonojagoron mancha? Didn’t they already become a part of the 14 party coalition?
The Prime Minister supported this movement and expected the Judges in ICT to listen to the demands of the Gonojagoron Mancha. Is this the way a country should run? By now we should recognize, the Shahbagh group outlived their welcome and should go back to their previous jobs before getting embroiled into political morass.
Bangladesh must look forward and start implementing arrangements for the next election. The disturbances are tearing the very fabric of civility of the Bangladesh population. The ruling party seems to be reading from the same book the British and the Pakistanis used to “divide and rule”. The temples and properties were being gutted by miscreants causing a division between Muslim majority and the minority Hindus and Buddhists. The bloggers are agitating the God fearing Muslims. There seems to be an intelligence failure in the government. In this digital age, the government should have prior knowledge of these disturbances and should have been pro-active in protecting all houses of worship. Especially in the case of Ramu demolition of the Buddhist temple, the government could easily find the source of the blog post and probably prevent this ugly incident from happening. Similarly, the source of Rajib blog has not been revealed yet. Instead the state is taking the easy route of insinuating one group against the other in order to gain politically and winning elections.
The opposition parties have accused that the disturbances in the temples have been planted by the ruling party workers. Many such investigations have not been concluded, but they preempt blaming the opposition parties with such nefarious activities in order to make a Hindu-Muslim divide that do not exist. Recently, the Jamaat-Shibir workers are believed to be guarding the temples and properties of the minorities in order to protect their interest in this blame game.
Recently all attention was given to Jamaat and Shibir. There are many Muslim parties who are against Jamaat but united on Islamic ideals. Even by raising these controversies, the government or the Gonojagoron Mancha will never be able to legally ban Jamaat. Will that mean the mancha will be agitating forever? Yes; they have raised the sensitivity of the simple Muslim majority by giving an appearance of anti-Islam platform. This is not helping anyone. At the end of the day, we are one people, one race with one language. Even though it is easy to incite, divide and rule is an old concept and must not be used.
Now the Prime Minister has turned to promulgate a law against terrorism as if it is inventing the wheel. Bangladesh is the signatory to the international terrorism rules and can immediately apply those rules against anyone or any group practicing terrorism. They do not need to posture for new laws or pass the responsibility to the high courts for doing what the parliament is capable of doing. Bangladesh is a very soft state. We need our resources focused on development of the nation and pay attention to prevent disruptive actions. Economy gets hurt by the shut downs and the criminal activities of the political parties and their affiliated groups. Bangladesh, being a poor nation, does not have the massive economy to safeguard these kinds of disruptions, the judicial system and the government services. Instead wasting our valuable resources and time, we should develop an aggressive method of citizen education. The security forces must be humble and develop an attitude of service rather than autocratic posture of a ruler with a baton. In a nutshell, we need to exercise and learn positive manners that will propel Bangladesh to a middle status country.
There should be a mutual understanding to improve security, governance and the rule of law. Tension, conflict management and prevention of lawlessness should be discussed by all parties whenever such symptoms arise and then seek a solution together. It may not be easy but talking is always better than hurling stones. The Prime Minister is the head of the entire peoples of the nation and not for party people only. The present culture must change.
Confrontational politics of threat and intimidation as is happening now must become the thing of the past. Sooner we get rid of these bad habits, more development will ensue. Bangladeshis deserve peace and happiness to secure the future of their new generations. The Shahbagh generation should take this into their mindset and be inclusive in fact and not in lip reading. Otherwise their lot will be locked into the same fate like that of Anna Hazare and Arvind Kejriwal who ran mass popular demonstrations in India that nosedived into darkness.
The Bangladesh Chronicle