In The Indian Express:
There is more to the crowds at Dhaka’s Shahbag square than meets the eye. Behind all its spontaneity, a political logic is at work that explains why Bangladesh’s political cauldron has been on the boil, regardless of the fact that Sheikh Hasina’s Awami League rules with a two-thirds majority.
As matters stand, the main opposition force, the Bangladesh Nationalist Party, is boycotting Parliament, with its leader Khaleda Zia unrelenting on her position that she will not contest the next elections if Hasina were to head the caretaker government. The Awami League has amended the Constitution to virtually remove the concept of a caretaker government. Hasina is willing to replace her cabinet with technocrats, but not remove herself from the helm.
The near absence of the opposition in Parliament has allowed Hasina to hold complete sway over matters big and small. And from South Block’s point of view, India was quite pleased with the situation until the moment West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee provided an unforeseen twist to the script.
This context is important as one looks at the events at Shahbag Square, an unexpected, united expression of nationalist sentiment spearheaded by students revelling at the revival of a historical narrative that had almost been forgotten. The year 1971 marked the birth of Bangladesh, yes, but it was not seen as the signifier of a larger nationalist identity rooted in Bengali culture and a secular ethos. Through its tumultuous political evolution after 1971, Bangladesh swung from one extreme to the other and India, steeped in its own problems, remained distant until Islamic extremism assumed dangerous proportions. More:
Also in The Indian Express:
Young and angry at Shahbagh
Shahbagh Square is not Tahrir Square. It is not Ramlila Maidan either. For the thousands of youngsters who squeezed into every inch of space at Dhaka’s central roundabout, piercing the air with cries of “Fashi Chai, Fashi Chai (Let them hang)”, this was their own movement, their own moment. Many of them were born after Bangladesh’s tumultuous War of Liberation in 1971 and had grown up hearing stories of the struggle. But now, those stories had come alive and the youth had a role in them — of settling a 42-year-old unfinished agenda of creating “a secular, safe Bangladesh”.
It’s February 21 or ‘Ekushey February’ and the atmosphere at Shahbagh Square is charged. An estimated 5 million protesters have turned up at the roundabout. The day has its emotional significance. It was on this day 60 years ago, when Bangladesh was still part of Pakistan, that a number of students campaigning for the recognition of Bangla as one of the state languages were gunned down. More: