© Arif Hafiz





There is no doubt that newspapers incite the public opinion. For centuries, commentators, literary contributors, journalists, editors played vital role in mass uprising.

Daily Ittefaq and it’s editor Manik Mia played a vital role in the uprising of 69 and lifting Bangali nationalism and establishing Mujib as it’s supreme unquestioned leader. Daily Ittefaq’s relentless role in promoting Bangali nationalism and Mujib ultimately resulted in resistance movement in early 1971 and eventually inspired the people of the country tp take up arms when the Pakistani military cracked down on the Bangali population. If we go centuries before, France revolution and the violent aftermath was directly linked to inspirational fiery writings of Rosseau,Montesque, Locke and Voltaire. Even the recent movement in Shahbag was inspired by many bloggers’ relentless writings against Anti-Bangladesh activities of Jamaat-e-Islami and allies during 1971.

Although some bloggers started the Shahbag movement, it is the unmasked activist role of the mainstream electronic and print media which played the most important role in transforming Shahbag from a sit in program of some bloggers to an unprecedented mass middle class phenomenon. Yes,  it is presumed that there are 50,000 bloggers, but still blog has a very limited audience. Mainstream print media and the electronic media kept sparking to keep the Shahbag inferno burn in full flame and kept the fire from receding. Except for a couple of print media playing activist role on the other side, mainstream print and electronic media saw themselves as part of the movement, not as a neutral observer of the movement.

It is clear why electronic media will do it. Electronic media, still more objective than print media, operate under tremendous pressure of competition. They need viewers, they need ad revenue and and they cannot afford to be shut down. These are big financial investments. They will go whatever way the urban establishment is going.

But print media’s role deserve some discussion. Dominant vernacular daily, Prothom Alo, which arguably commands 80% of the total readership, has a very clear editorial and news treatment policy against rightist political outlets, specifically Jamaat-e-Islami. They definitely would support and inspire any movement pertaining to hanging Quader Molla.

However, Prothom-ALo’s persistent role of incitement, two weeks in the Shahbag Square movement, begs some second guessing. It seemed although Shahbag movement clearly helps government, at some point Government was eager to pull a break in the Shahbag momentum and carefully divert it to  intermittent gatherings in Mirpur and Rayerbazaar. PM and other responsible spokesperson of the government either kept quiet or toned down the rhetoric. Prothom Alo (despite an editorial in it’s English Language sister concern, Daily Star, requesting the opposite) however, seemed not at all interested in keeping the fire under control.

While another editor, from other end of political spectrum, Mr. Mahmudur Rahman of vernacular daily Amar Desh did his best to incite ultra right Islamic passion to counter the momentum of Shahbag – events of last few days suggest that some members of mainstream media led by Prothom Alo seemed enthusiastically waiting for a civil war type situation in Bangladesh. Events in Dhaka, Manik Ganj, Sylhet, Chittagong, Bogra, Rajshahi since last Friday made it look very much like a mushrooming chaos Bangladesh. With death toll crossing two dozens only in 3 days and Shahbag movement now firmly controlled by political leadership and anti Shahbag ultra right movement looking more widespread, ferocious and out of control – it seemed Bangladesh does not have any government.

If one is asked when last it felt like there is no one in control of the administration in Bangladesh, most will agree that it was October-Deember 2006.

Reviewing retrospectively, 2006 October -December conflicts would seem to be very much inspired, nourished by some mainstream media including daily Prothom Alo. And when 2006 conflicts led to a military coup in disguise on January 11 2007 ( Known as 1/11), this same newspapers came out with overwhelming backing and support — to an extent of even owning the coup.

However history will judge that the coup, the attempt to instill a military controlled/ supported progressive secular 3rd political force in the government and efforts to undermine the two major political parties of Bangladesh failed. But there was absolutely no doubt among the observers of Bangladesh politics that a repeat attempt at the same goal will be made.

With election of 2009, the political landscape of Bangladesh quickly went back to pre-October 2006 days. Political parties did not learn from their mistakes and from their sufferings during the military coup. In this backdrop, a question was coming more and more conspicuously forward, when and how another military supported, civil society take over attempt will be made.

Most analysts were considering an expected pre or post election mayhem to be perfect time for the civil society- military conglomerate, with the backing of Prothom-Alo, to strike back with the repeat attempt of 1/11. However, with AL firmly in control of political landscape, ever powerful law enforcement agency forces, weak opposition party – a formidable resistance to one sided election seemed unlikely. Without two strong opposing sides, a mayhem became less likely.

Current spiral of anarchy across the nation, sharp cleavage along the heart of it, increasing hatred and intolerance between the feuding groups may have given the second 1/11 hopefuls an unexpected opportunity.

One would wait, very eagerly, to see how the next week goes in Bangladesh. If there is a relative and noticeable lull in the downward spiral, any such attempt will be less likely and this piece will sound illogically alarmist. However it is this piece that better be rather unreasonably alarmist than further division and downward spiral in the political landscape of Bangladesh.