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Painting by Sohel Nadeem Rahman

Those still sitting on the fence are not really relevant at this moment unless the rightfully committed have plenty of time to waste, which they ought not in light of Rajib’s tragic martyrdom and the real threat of Jamaati terror on the ground. Those who again find themselves on the wrong side of history are facing popular resistance and inevitable defeat at the hands of increasingly proactive “ordinary” Bangladeshis. The days of misguidance and perversion surrounding so much of our history have finally begun to come to foreseeable end while Bangladeshis rapidly unite around the truth of what we are and how we got here.

Shahbagh after week two
By Sohel Nadeem Rahman

As we approach February 21st in and around Shahbagh, we find the country more pleasantly polarized around its core values than it has been since our heroic War of Independence in 1971. Two opposing sides of the proverbial fence have clearly emerged since Shahbagh started a couple of weeks ago: the pro-independence and therefore pro-Bangladesh side, and the anti-independence and therefore anti-Bangladesh side.

Those on this side of the fence possibly consist of the overwhelming majority of our people from all walks of life with a diverse array of viewpoints. This majority is firmly united around the historically more accurate narrative of Bangladesh. Those on the other side believe in a narrative that is not only anti-historical but also inconsistent with the Spirit of 1971 and the codification of its core values in the 1972 Constitution. They are significantly smaller in number.

Those still sitting on the fence are not really relevant at this moment unless the rightfully committed have plenty of time to waste, which they ought not in light of Rajib’s tragic martyrdom and the real threat of Jamaati terror on the ground. Those who again find themselves on the wrong side of history are facing popular resistance and inevitable defeat at the hands of increasingly proactive “ordinary” Bangladeshis. The days of misguidance and perversion surrounding so much of our history have finally begun to come to foreseeable end while Bangladeshis rapidly unite around the truth of what we are and how we got here.

Political parties being political parties are vying for advantage and much to their surprise, being co-opted by Shahbagh at the grassroots level. Naturally the ruling party and their allies are enjoying a major tactical advantage simply because they made the ICT possible after decades of shameful inaction. They always pay a great deal of lip service to the Spirit of 1971 because of their undisputed leadership role back then, and obviously there’s no better time to try and get serious about that spirit.

However, this timely convenience in no way means that people have forgotten or have chosen to overlook their failures as incumbents. To claim that would be to lie, and a single trip to Shahbagh would prove it. The reluctant parties of military usurpers, including the one in the ruling alliance, are doing themselves no favor by sitting on the fence while many of their young members are at Shahbagh.

Convoluted conjecture and conspiracy theories, unwarranted cynicism, and outright misguidance through the conflation and similarization of issues by a wide variety of outsiders are simply adding to the damage they’ve already done to their own credibility. As they continue to marginalize themselves politically, different perspectives within Shahbagh are being more closely and reasonably discussed without demonizing the less popular views as counterproductive and poorly timed.

That’s because despite ongoing and concerted efforts to the contrary, Shahbagh isn’t likely to lose sight of its original and deeply resonating demands anytime soon. The popular demand for capital punishment for convicted war criminals currently indicted by the ICT, and outlawing Jamaat-e-Islami because of its criminal role in 1971 and criminal activities since its rehabilitation in 1979, tends to be gathering even more momentum around the country with each passing day.

The Shahbagh movement remains non-violent regardless of most of its slogans, and closely united in its genuine political diversity within the pro-Bangladesh narrative in spite of its still narrow focus. But that doesn’t mean that the movement as a whole is unaware of its own immense potential to exercise organized people power to force positive democratic change when it comes to other pressing issues from endemic corruption to unequal treatment under the law suffered by Bangladeshis without financial, social and political clout. They are choosing not to “multitask” at this point because they have wisely prioritized their initial demands. Those are uniting people despite some critical but constructive reservations voiced by some within the general group.

Those demands will remain a priority until they are met, as the movement will continue to mature InshAllah as a sustainable, refreshing and important political force capable of bringing people together. The world will simply have to wait and see how this movement evolves into the powerful representation of people power it needs to be, and then is able to drive positive change once its initial demands are met. These are the facts so far from where I’m standing, far more optimistic than I was in the beginning.

Joy Bangla!