Bangladesh for the past few days has been roiled by a spirited movement against quotas in government jobs. Most particularly, Dhaka has been thrown out of joint by an agitation that has been ignited by an issue that is terribly emotive for the Awami League in an election year ~ 56 per cent of the vacancies are to be filled by the descendants of those who had fought in the liberation struggle of 1971.
Equally, the issue of “liberation quotas” is of little or no relevance to many or most of the post-liberation generation… close to 47 years after freedom was won. On closer reflection, Begum Hasina has scarcely been confronted with so virulent a students’ movement during her tenure as Prime Minister.
Her announcement in Parliament on Wednesday that the job reservation system “would be scrapped” was made in parallel with an agreement with the students that the campaign would be postponed till 7 May.
As it turns out, the Prime Minister’s assurance and the agreement between the student leaders and the Awami League have done but little to ensure normalcy on the campuses, pre-eminently Dhaka University and most crucially Shahbag Square, the nerve-centre of upheavals in Bangladesh.
On the contrary, privately-run universities have now joined the movement which shrills for immediate reforms in the quota system, one that distinctly plays to the Awami gallery.
Many protestors are still rather skeptical about the real intention of the government. Misgivings that the Awami dispensation is intent on a temporary staving off of the crisis are not wholly unfounded.
The students are not convinced that their movement has brought the government to its knees. Far from it. Hasina is acutely aware that it is likely to be an electoral issue, so historically emotive that it is bound to be exploited by
the Bangladesh Nationalist Party ~ should it contest ~ and the anti-Liberation and fundamentalist Jamaat. The quota movement can only make waters murkier still months before the country goes to the polls.
It seems unlikely at this juncture that Hasina will attempt a quick-fix solution; the fundamental issue might fester still. In a sense, job quotas in 2018 have been linked to the Liberation movement.
A whole generation has grown up since those heady days of 1971, and fears of losing out in the bargain are dangerously real. It is generally feared that if the government fails to devise an agreeable formula, the students will very probably step up their movement, which could offer a handle to the anti-government parties and the outlawed Islamist militants to disrupt the electoral process, if not foment anarchy.
Portents are dire if the arson attack on the residence of the Dhaka University Vice-Chancellor, Prof Md Akhtaruzzaman, is any indication. A revamp of the job quota system is imperative. This succinctly is the message of this week’s upsurge.