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|Volume 12 |Issue 08| February 22, 2013 ||
Sleepless in Shahbag
The mass protest in Shahbag, which has entered into its third week, is going to change the way politicians run their business in Bangladesh. Shahbag has shown ordinary people that a spark of flame, if the cause is just and popular, can give birth to a raging wildfire. Shahbag has so far steadfastly resisted the temptation of including anything other than war crime in their agenda. But chances are always there that slowly but surely other issues will seep in.
And politicians may find the prospect quite scary. At the beginning of the movement, some top guns of the ruling party were publicly humiliated by the masses in the roundabout. To make matters worrying for the Awami League (AL), the movement has so far been driven by the Left. In fact, the three-minute-long countrywide silence to bring home an array of demands is the brainchild of the Communist Party of Bangladesh (CPB)-leaning Students Union, so also is the hoisting of black flag along with the national flag, wearing black badge and other such popular programmes.
To call the relationship between the CPB-BSD and the AL complicated is an understatement. There interests merge in the trial of war criminals and the establishment of a non-communal Bangladesh, but other than that it is fraught with everything a failing partnership has. The CPB wants to create a Left alternative with the BSD and other likeminded groups, finally coming out of the AL's tall and overpowering shadow. During the last election, it refused to form an electoral alliance with the AL, which CPB sympathisers would not have dreamt of in the eighties and nineties. Whether that decision was a wise one is debatable, but CPB walked it all alone, did not fare well in the polls, and clinched a couple of crucial posts in the Upazila election that followed.
The Left's stance on the oil and gas issue, corruption, imperialism, rights of garment workers and other such matters do not bode well for the AL. And the risk is always there that following Shahbag's footsteps, people in other parts of the city or the country might pour into the streets to bring home their demands. It can be the people of Phulbaria or the garment workers of Ashulia. Shahbag has shown the way, and the Left and other groups will be happy to follow suit.
Then there is the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP), which has been sent into near oblivion by Shahbag. The party is in political hibernation now, and it might try to replicate the movement outside the national museum to realise their own demand of the inclusion of a caretaker government in the constitution. The BNP is looking forward to the middle of March or early April, when a few more verdicts of the war crimes trial can be expected. The judgement might force Jamaat-e-Islami (JI) or its offshoots to take desperate measures, which will destablise the situation. The BNP will want to roll out its own Shahbag/Tahrir Square at the fag end of the government's term when the situation will be ripe for the party to get some political mileage.
The JI has some nuisance value in Bangladesh's politics, and it seems the party wants to enjoy this unenviable status for a few more months. It has so far refused to change, let alone shed its controversial leadership who has given the JI bad press. After it gets banned, the party or its splinter factions might resort to means that might justify the reason why it was banned in the first place. What is even more alarming is the JI's possible hobnobbing with parties such as Jamaat-ul-Mujahideen and Lashker-e-Taiba.
Presently, the AL is riding on a ferocious tiger. Thanks to Shahbag, there is no possibility of a back channel negotiation between the AL and the JI, which many in Shahbag will swear the AL has tried to do a few weeks ago. It leaves the party with only one option--go with Shahbag. Then there is the risk. Shahbag is not really the AL or the CPB-BSD. Shahbag is the masses, and they are weary of the AL. One reason why Shahbag Mor has become Shahbag Square is because it has a non-political appeal, people flock there in the thousands because it is not led by the AL or any other political party or group--the masses consider it their own movement to realise a demand they consider close to their heart. The AL will do well if it lets Shahbag keep its neutral character, as, in the long run, it will help to keep the flame of resistance burning.
Be that as it may, Shahbag should not limit itself merely to the capital punishment of the war criminals. Handing down justice to the war criminals is crucial to soothe the bruised heart of our nation, but along with it, it is also important now is to establish the spirit of our glorious Liberation War in our politics. The ever-pervasive lumpen capitalism that we witness in the name of free market goes contrary to the cry for equality and justice based on which the Liberation War was fought in 1971.
In the last 42 years, especially after the brutal assassination of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, the country and its economy has been taken to a direction where workers corpses are used to fuel some capitalist's greed, where industries are sick but its owners are rich, where plunder and corruption are the byword for business. It is time to overthrow the economic system that breeds oppression and inequality and hinders our collective progress as a nation. Shahbag can take the lead, and if it does so, it is going to bring about a revolutionary change in the country. Whether the movement has it in it, only the next few months can tell.
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