If student revolts everywhere are precursors to bigger unrests, they have been particularly so in Bangladesh. The new nation’s birth owes much to the protests on the campuses in 1952 against the then Pakistani government’s attempts to impose Urdu on the Bengali-speaking people. The violence at the universities in Dhaka and other cities should be viewed as a grim warning by the country’s interim government. The first sparks are reported to have been over the presence of some soldiers on the Dhaka University campus during a football match there. That such a small provocation triggered large-scale violence across the country should not really be surprising. It shows that the interim administration is fast losing the popular support it had received earlier. True, the university campuses in Bangladesh had been reduced to fighting arenas by the student wings of the political parties. But a new mood of defiance is obviously prevailing at the campuses. The ground for Wednesday’s violence had been prepared over several months by a series of agitations by students and teachers. Irrespective of the issues behind them, the stirs suggested growing impatience with the government. The arrest of the former prime minister, Sheikh Hasina Wajed, fuelled the anger.
Fakhruddin Ahmed cannot be unaware of the steady erosion of his government’s credibility. If the majority of people had earlier welcomed its moves against corrupt politicians and religious fundamentalists, they now find the initiatives lost in an atmosphere of drift. The government’s moves for political reforms are increasingly seen to have dubious motives. Worst of all, the people’s fears of the army’s role in the government are getting worse. Mr Ahmed will make a mistake if he thinks that a greater dependence on the army is the answer to the people’s dissatisfaction and anger. Although the army has ruled the country for nearly 15 years, it can no longer hope to hijack the democratic process. Mr Ahmed’s task, therefore, is to clean up the country’s politics in the interest of democracy. The people may be prepared to give him enough time to do so. But they will not accept any moves that will legitimize another spell of the army’s rule. For all the problems that the politicians created, Bangladesh has no option but to return to its experiments with democracy.