It began with the price rise of bus tickets as fuel prices increased. The bus owners, a very powerful group, immediately raised ticket prices causing huge outcry but it wasn't paid much attention to. The bus owners aren't exactly used to listening to public demands. It was only when students began to protest that some attention was paid but also discarded. While there was sympathy for the students, there was no movement from the Government's side. Transport owners are strong enough to counter most requests and demands. A sort of stalemate seemed inevitable.
But young students on the street in sit-ins can't be ignored either, who are another decisive power lobby. One remembers the road safety movement led by students which was the most robust and long stretching movement till date of the last few decades. It was doing fine till political content came in as is inevitable. This made the Government take a very different position and from some accommodation to the demands, it went into a hardline stance leading to the movement's end.
Just as street movements are powerful political tools, reaction /retaliation is also inevitable from the ruling political circles. The helmeted men with sticks, still unidentified but most often guessed as party workers, confronting the protesters along with the police are also remembered. So the cycle if not certain is at least in the reckoning of many minds.
Is the street still the battlefield?
Various negotiation meetings between the Government and the bus owners didn't work out which displayed how powerful the transport owners sector is. However they also provided some mirth claiming to be "very poor people". The catalyst of the current decision was the accident at Rampura which killed a school student. From a price hike protest movement it became a national emotional issue and one is happy that it was recognized by all.
The owners backed down overnight on the half fare demand with the proviso of certain conditions which seems fair enough given the current scenario. It basically means half fare means only during school hours to midnight. Students are not expected to be out after midnight so it's half fare for students during their school, college and studying hours.
The fare has come into effect already and is now in the initial teething phases. In some cases it's not fully half and in cases not at all. The authorities have said that full information has not yet reached many workers but soon it will be fully implemented. So far so good.
The burning buses and the warning from the top
When the student was killed in Rampura, the immediate public reaction as it's in almost all cases, was to torch vehicles. While some have said that this forced the hands of the owners, burning buses also carry political memories. The PM has said that students don't burn buses and the hint is clear. There is a hint of political activists of the Opposition variety who may be taking advantage of the situation. In that case, the students' strike which is continuing may face harder resistance than they have till date.
It becomes all the more important as the BNP camp is very tense over what they think is the issue of treatment abroad of their leader Khaleda Zia. She is critically ill due to several chronic ailments and BNP wants her to get treatment abroad.
The Government has said that the family can bring doctors from abroad but the party and the doctors have said that the kind of treatment she needs is not possible here. AL leaders have also challenged the diagnosis and prognosis of the doctors.
Khaleda Zia's ill health and the BNP
Meanwhile, the Law minister has said that she can seek treatment abroad only if she returns to jail so it's an impasse right now. BNP has said that if Khaleda Zia dies , they will do the proverbial lighting bonfires of political protest and the rest. So this is another uncertainty that looms over all. Hence the PM's words are said in the context of the possibly emerging political unrest should the health condition of Khaleda decline further.
Having already pushed the owners to concede to the half fare for students' demand, the Government won't be patient with further demands. The course of the half-price ticket has run its course and continuous street occupation will be seen as part of an organized political campaign. What the GOB will do one is not sure.
The Government doesn't seem interested in sending Khaleda abroad for treatment on demand and BNP's demands are read as political statements and not health bulletins. Should anything happen and BNP mounts protest, the counter from the ruling party would be tough too. What that will mean to both parties isn't sure. BNP is already depleted as a result of systematic whittling down of its organization and clout and it doesn't on merit have the clout to mount massive street campaigns.
As one says in the proverb, the only certainty is uncertainty.
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