The latest case of the private university students demanding cancellation of the value added tax (VAT) on tuition fees demonstrates a qualitative change in the approach of a generation used to a culture of rampage. Damaging cars and buses used to be the primary approach of the students whenever they were out on the streets.
This violent way of protest had little support from the populace, but the student bodies were under the impression that no demand was achievable without resorting to street rampage. Perhaps it is because these “rampagers” hardly ever face legal action, unless the government decides to single out some political figure to harass. For instance, the BNP Secretary-General Mirza Fakhrul Islam Alamgir currently faces the charge of vandalising DCC garbage trucks.
Also Read: Five things we learned from the VAT protest
The five-day student protest was organised and peaceful. No violence was reported in any part of the city, though it came to a standstill due to the blockade of students carrying messages such as: “Either withdraw VAT or shoot us.”
In a democratic polity, what else can be as powerful? As a journalist, I have seen some people try and provoke the students, but they remained unmoved. The organisers deserve credit for their peaceful approach; they have once again proven that anything is achievable through peaceful means.
The withdrawal of the VAT is another testimony that a political government, no matter how bad or undemocratic it is in nature, must respect the opinion of the people. I have no doubt in mind that a violent approach would have prompted the government to go in the other direction.
The political parties, be it AL, BNP, or Jamaat, have been using violence as the principal political strategy against the governments. Their reckless attitude has distorted the peace-loving mentality of the people.
The parties should learn from this movement that the days of violence are gone. The one-sided elections in 2014 have no doubt eroded our democratic institutions and civil rights. But the BNP-Jamaat’s violent call and subsequent actions against the January 5 polls gave Awami League the ground on which to successfully sell the elections at home and abroad.
The Awami League backtracked from the VAT decision sensing a probable consequence: They did not want to allow the opposition to cash in on the unrest. The BNP had extended moral support to the students. And the bureaucrat-turned-finance minister was cornered by the politicians from within the Awami League.
The ruling party acted judiciously before the situation went out of control, though huge economic losses have befallen the people in the last five days. But a stitch in time saves nine.
The political parties should learn from our children that people want peace, not violence, and they want to know that their constitutional rights are protected. They expect the government to care about the dissenting voices that make democracy meaningful.