Published: Monday, April 8, 2013

The exit point of Shahbagh movement

The exit point of Shahbagh movement

The recent approach of the government towards the Shahbagh movement that emerged as a ‘Social Movement’   causes concern in the people regarding the likely decline of this movement. The article will elaborate whether the movement is in a declining stage or not, based on a theoretical framework.
Basically, social movements have four stages, as mentioned by  Jonathan Christiansen which include emergence, mass popularity, formalisation and decline. The people who are in between the political party and interest groups having a clearly identified opponent construct a social movement towards a goal. The participants of the social movement are linked by informal networks and share a collective identity. It enters the second stage when mass people come to join the movement and make it more organised and strategic in its outlook.
The continuation of the movement through arranging several programmes gives it a formal look which increases the political power of the participants than the previous stage to have regular access to political elites.
Finally the last stage of the movement indicates the decline of the movement through success or failure or co-optation by the target groups against whom the movement is directed or repression by the government.
In this context the Shahbagh movement has been started by some bloggers and online activists who got connected by a facebook event demanding capital punishment of Abdul Quader Mollah and others convicted of crimes against humanity during the 1971 Bangladesh Liberation War. Later, the movement spread to other parts of Bangladesh. It reached the second stage very quickly within few days when peoples from various levels came to join and express solidarity with the movement. Consequently it became a people’s movement and has come to be known as ‘Gonojagoron Mancha.’ The movement became formalised within five days when a five-member delegation of Bloggers and Online Activist Network submitted a memorandum to Jatiya Sangsad Speaker Abdul Hamid on February 10  to press home their six-point demand. Since then the ‘Gonojagoron Mancha‘ continues to call several programmes including three minutes of silence, candle lighting, cultural programmes and so on.
Now the symptom says that the movement is on the way to reach the fourth stage. The ‘double standard’ response of the government has made the situation look like this. The prime minister expressed her opinion to stop the movement at the meeting of the Central Executive Committee of  the Awami League on Sunday,  April 1, 2013 (Prothom Alo, April 2, 2013). On the other hand Abdur Razzak, Minister for food and disaster management said in  a talk show in the Independent Television on April 2 that the government is willing to continue its support strategically toward the continuation of the movement and he also said that nothing was uttered against the movement during their meeting! If so then why has not the government released any press note to make it clear that no discussion was held regarding the ‘Gonojagorn Mancha’ during the said meeting?
So it seems that either the government will accept their six-point demands and take necessary steps to fulfil it including banning of Jamaat politics which will make the movement a success, or the government will use measures (sometimes violent) to control or stifle the movement. It can be envisaged by the attitude of the government that it will choose the latter probably, as it seems that the government is not prepared to ban Jamaat politics right now. So the movement can decline through repression by the government as there is no possibility to end the movement through co-optation. Because co-optation can   occur  if the leaders are motivated by authorities or target groups to redirect their activities   and the Shahbagh movement is neither highly dependent on centralised authority nor on a charismatic leader.
Though it is not the right moment to pick the exit point of the movement as the spokesperson of the movement have said that they will not go back until their demands are met. So its better to say that the movement   exists in between repression and success (see figure). Because one of the demands has already been met by the amendment of law through which the International Crimes (Tribunals) Act, 1973, now allows the government   to appeal against any verdict of   the Tribunals. International Crimes Tribunal (ICT) law has now also empowered the   Tribunals to try and punish any organisations, including Jamaat-e-Islami, for committing crimes during the Liberation War.
The greatest achievement of this movement is that, through this upraising the people of this country, especially the young generation has got the chance to revisit the proud history of the country with renewed spirit.

The writer is Research Associate, Centre for Policy Dialogue (CPD).

  • sirajul_islam_1

    Being the self-promoted ‘pro-liberation’ force, Awami League had little choice but to
    tolerate this Shahbagh movement because, you’ve mentioned, ‘the movement spread to other parts of Bangladesh, and reached the second stage very quickly within few days.’ Together, they strengthened the possibility initially that AL and BNP will not side with Jamaat, either on the ploy of some election strategy, or on the grounds of ideological affiliation in the name of religion. Actually, the Shahbagh movement had put all the major political parties to a double edged sword. While the AL stayed with, BNP took the Jamaati position at last after some days of flip-flop because they thought that was the right thing to do. The ruling elites fear that the Shahbagh movement might evolve into anti-government, anti-establishment agitation, and so, they’ve tried to co-opt and control it.

    On the other hand, because of the grave risks of their endurance, Jamaat fought a ‘do-or-die’ battle letting loose all their battle-ready local and global machineries of ‘lies,
    deception and vandalism’ and successfully gave the Shahbagh movement a colour of a battle for existence between ‘atheists’ and ‘believers’. Shahbagh has given politically-inexperienced, unorganised and battle-un-savvy people the opportunity to come out on the street to express their grievances against the state, but most of them are peace-loving, aren’t ready to fight a battle of ‘atheists’ vs. ‘believers’, and dislike being a Taliban state. They also like to prosper, doubling their GDP within the next 10 years. So, as much as their presence getting thinner, the AL gets closer to their pre-5th February original position. Mentors perhaps have their advices as well as there was quick prop up. I like to argue that the success of Shahbagh movement so far lies in the fact that apolitical citizens are learning to hold and take part in political demonstrations
    and processions, and are exercising a new form of politics amidst multiple threats, and this is just the beginning.