Movement for road safety gets political colour in Bangladesh

Pratim Ranjan Bose Kolkata | Updated on August 28, 2018 Published on August 05, 2018

The week-long movement by school students in Dhaka for better road safety is turning into a political controversy involving the ruling Awami League and the BNP-led opposition barely four months ahead of the general elections in Bangladesh.

Things took a turn for the worse on Saturday when unidentified persons attacked students.

Bangladesh’s English daily The Daily Star blamed the students wing of the ruling Awami League and its other front organisations, for attacking protesters and injuring 150 people. Estimates by some put the number of injured at 50-60. In at least one incident, police lathicharged agitators.

Many journalists and photo-journalists were also assaulted for taking pictures or videos of masked men attacking the students. The protesters, supported by college and university students, clashed with the attackers armed with sticks and stones.

Spontaneous or political?

The movement was definitely a spontaneous outburst against the lack of governance on Dhaka’s streets.

School students in Dhaka came out of their classrooms after two students were killed on July 29 in an accident involving a bus that was running without valid papers. The insensitive remarks of minister Shajahan Khan fuelled their anger.

As the school students took over city traffic administration, a very large percentage of public transport and cars ferrying VVIPS, ministers, police and army personnel were found to be plying without valid papers. Many drivers didn’t have a valid licence.

The movement evoked spontaneous support from civil society and spread into other Bangladeshi towns and cities.

However, it also created ground for the Opposition, under serious pressure with many of its leaders starting from the BNP supremo Khaleda Zia behind bars, to use the movement in their favour.

In a leaked telephonic conversation, BNP Standing Committee member and former minister Amir Khasru Mahmud Chowdhury was allegedly heard instructing a youth wing activist of the party to infiltrate the student movement. The police has lodged a case against Chowdhury and arrested the youth leader.

But what actually strengthened the suspicion of the Opposition hand was spread of fake news, alleging rape and murder of students, on social media on Saturday.

Hasina in action

Realising the potential danger, the Sheikh Hasina government on Sunday clamped down on mobile internet connectivity. But some incidents were reported during the day.

Hasina also expressed concern at the security and safety of school students and urged them to stop picketing. The schools are also trying to woo students back into classrooms.

As part of its assurance to students, the government is expected to clear a Bill for higher penal provisions against transporters transgressing road-safety rules, on Monday. The Bill was hanging fire for two years due to transporters’ lobby.

Golam Mortoza, editor of Saptahik points out that Shajahan Khan also heads the transporters’ Union.

But, will this movement offer any political edge to the Opposition? Shyamal Dutta, editor of ‘Bhorer Kagoj’, a Dhaka-based Bengali newspaper, believes the exposé of a senior BNP leader trying to hijack the movement will invite more pressure on the Opposition.

Published on August 05, 2018
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