An Interview on Bangladesh Street Protests

I think this short interview about Bangladesh Street protests pretty much sums up what is going on in Bangladesh. The interview led to predictable and dire consequences for the person foolish enough to speak his mind about Bangladesh to the foreign media while living within Bangladesh! I am posting the transcript of the interview and then posting the video.

Q: These protests were sparked by two teens who were killed in a road accident but is this all about road safety or is there something larger going on?

A: Very much larger. This has been going on for a very very long time. It is an unelected government so they do not really have a mandate to rule, But they have been clinging on by brute force. The looting of banks, the gagging of the media. You mentioned just now the mobile internet is currently switched off, the extra-judicial killings, the disappearances, the need to give protection money at all levels, bribery at all levels, corruption in education. It is a never ending list. It has been huge.

So it really it is that pent up energy, emotion, anger, that has been let lose. This particular incident, sad as it is, really is the valve that has allowed things to go through. Very recently there was another very big protest about the quota because the quota system is rigged in such a way that only people close to the party in power get to get government jobs and there is a disproportionate amount of jobs going to them so ordinary people protested. And that was very brutally brought down.

Under pressure the prime minister offered reforms but them reneged on them. So that is also part of the reason. So this time when students did go on protests, again it went to a situation where they could not control it and the Prime minister has promised that she will cede to their demands, but of course people no longer believe. She has no credibility. She has made promises before, it has not been accepted, so now they don’t do it.

But I think what we need is to look at is what is happening in the streets today. The police specifically asked for help from these armed goons to combat unarmed students demanding safe roads. I mean now ridiculous is that. Today I was in the street and there are people with machetes in their hands chasing unarmed students and the police are standing by watching it happen. In some cases they are actually helping it out. I mean …. this morning, there was tear-gassing and I saw the police ganging up trying to catch these un-armed students, whereas these armed goons, are going out, wielding sticks and machetes, are walking past and they [the police] are just standing by.

Q: So where do you think these things are going to go from here? These protests appear to have spread across the country quite spontaneously and without any kind of central leadership here. This is part of the challenge the government is dealing with, in that it is so grass-roots in the way that it has spread.

A: I think the Government has miscalculated. It certainly felt that fear was enough, repression would have been enough, but I think you cannot tame an entire nation in this manner. And of course they are approaching elections, so the nearer it gets to elections, the more sensitive they are. They know that if there is a fair and free election, they will lose. But they haven’t got an exit plan as they have misruled for so long so that if they do lose, they will be torn apart. So they have to hang on by any means, so that is exactly what they are doing. They are clinging on using the entire might of the system plus the armed goons at their disposal.


14 thoughts on “An Interview on Bangladesh Street Protests”

  1. I’m wondering how the Awami League plans to hold an internationally credible election. I believe that the last election was boycotted by BNP-Jamaat, so the Awami League was elected essentially unopposed. Does the opposition plan to boycott the upcoming election as well?

    It seems to me (based on my little knowledge of Bangladesh) that the country is turning into a one party state. How will the international community deal with this? India is a huge supporter of Sheikh Hasina as she is seen as more likely to follow India’s line. Begum Khalida Zia is apparently more pro-Pakistan and more “Islamist”.

    We just had “elections” in Pakistan, which everyone knows were heavily manipulated by the Establishment (both pre-poll and on election day itself). Still, at least there was more than one party competing. Free and fair elections are one of the most basic requirements of democracy and it is sad to see both Pakistan and Bangladesh doing so poorly on this count.

    1. Well Awami League doesn’t plan to hold internationally credible election. Bangladesh is strategically important only to India and India has Bangladesh totally in its thrall now. Awami League has always been India’s party in Bangladesh and now even BNP has become pliant and make regular pilgrimage to Delhi to plead to give BNP a chance to do politics normally. How this has come to pass is a long story and hopefully a discussion for later.

      1. I really fear that for India. It was the same case with Nepal. And that’s how India took the maoist for granted( coupled with india”s political leadership at that time being either left or communist ). India could end up with a total angry generation of Bangladeshis

        One thing I don’t understand is why is Bangladesh parties so I thrall of Delhi. India has not been that good to bangldesh ( as a Indian I acknowledge that ) While hasina has bent over backwards to accept a lot of things. We have been far more accepting of the nepalis and still the situation has gone sideways With India having done even less in the relationship with bangladesh don’t understand why Bangladesh parties just don’t turn towards China

  2. Quota system: This is the law about the quota system, “Under the existing Bangladesh government recruitment system, 56 percent of government job entry positions are reserved: 30 per cent for children/grandchildren of 1971 freedom fighters, 10 per cent for women, 10 per cent is for districts based on population, 5 per cent for ethnic minorities, and 1 per cent for people with disabilities.”

    Interviewee’s claim: “the quota system is rigged in such a way that only people close to the party in power get to get government jobs”

    Can someone provide more substance for this claim ? How is government discretion involved in the quota system, and what is the evidence that any such discretion is being misused ?

    1. The 30% Freedom fighter’s quota is the big bone of contention. In 1971 at most one hundred thousand Bangladeshis out of Seventy million people had any kind to training to fight, actual number of people who took part in fighting is far smaller, may be in 30 thousand range. However, since the end of war the list of freedom fighter has been expanding and every new regime adds new people (even people who were pre-teen, adolescents in 1971) to the list. Now its 3 – 4 hundred thousand. It is widely recognized that addition to the list takes place by party connection and corruption. Descendants of 4 lac people gets shot at 30% of govt jobs while descendants of 700 lac gets to fight over 44%. You can guess there is massive resentment brewing among young people. This anodyne Op-Ed gives an overview of the grievances against Quota.

      1. Shafiq, the Bangladesh economy is growing at 7+% an annum. Lots of professional and business opportunities would be emerging, especially for urban, young, educated Bangladeshis. Quota jobs cannot be more than a miniscule fraction of this. Also, would the BNP really behave any differently in this regard ? Politics in South Asia is based on patronage and parties need these offerings to motivate and mobilize their workers/electoral groups.

        I agree that free and fair elections must be held at the earliest. But this quota protest seems a bit off-target to me. Reminds me a bit of the silly ‘anti-reservation’ protests in India some time ago.

  3. Hasina is going though the 70s Indira moment, no viable opposition to stop her. Govt like this “create” opposition leaders because of their high handedness. If the Jamat uses this opportunity well it can derive some legitimacy back similar to how RSS did during the emergency.

    1. Yes, her political opponents are totally vanquished. Probably no one in the land of Bengal enjoyed such unrivaled political power such as Sheikh Hasina has now. However, from a traditional intra-elite Begum vs Begum fight, politics in Bangladesh is transforming into elite vs people confrontation.

  4. Shafiq,

    It does not matter what is the issue, its the median age of the population.
    Bangladesh: Median total: 26.7 years male: 26 years female: 27.3

    It is lack of opportunities, and a population time bomb.
    Has BGD stopped women from working in the Mid East.

    I know Bangaladeshi men are exploited in the ME. Not heard of BD women working in ME.

  5. An interesting article on Bangladesh from

    “Since it came to power in 2009, indigenous populations, workers, ethnic and religious minorities, environmentally aware citizens, activists of all stripes, and the poor have been met with brute force at the hands of law enforcement agencies and ruling Awami League cadres. Any questioning or criticism – however mild – of the ruling party has been deemed to be anti-state activities, with severe consequences. Sheikh Hasina’s government has perfected this method of dealing with dissent to consolidate absolute, if insecure, power.”

    “The Awami League maintains that it is the best of some truly bad options in Bangladesh. While this claim may have been true at one point, it is difficult to take it at face value now. There is mounting evidence that the government has become the very evil that it purports to be the only bulwark against – an evil that the ruling party’s actions are rehabilitating and legitimising.”

    1. The issue I see (in both Bangladesh and Bangla/West Bengal) is culture of autocracy and extreme sychophancy. The previous opposition can never acquire power over the present rulers without giving greater incentives and co-opting the street thugs and strongmen latter depends upon to get it voted in sham election after election. As a result both Trinomool in Bangla has morphed into the old CPM terror machine, via literal party switching of the same goondas, and likewise Awami utilizes Islamist thugs like Hefazot and Jamaat into its ranks to maintain power stronghold.
      Currently BJP is making inroads into Bangla political scene by playing the same game. The only hope I have is that once they do come to power, they have the RSS derived wherewithal/discipline to put these lumpen elements in their place. But then again we had high hopes in Mamata as well as a strong lady but she ended up compromised to the lumpens. One can always hope.

      1. I think the issue in Bangladesh is that a credible election was not held the last time around and the country is essentially turning into a one-party state. As far as I know, that is not the case in West Bengal.

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