Researching the politics of development



The threat of student movements in Bangladesh: Injustice, infiltrators and regime change

Working paper 125

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David Jackman
For decades, large-scale political mobilisation in Bangladesh has been monopolised by deep-rooted and often violent political parties. Over the past decade, however, the opposition has been suppressed, leaving them unable to wage the strikes and protests typical of the country’s politics. Alongside their decline has been a resurgence of street movement beyond conventional political boundaries. These movements are unpredictable, coalesce around issues of injustice, and emerge in particular from urban students. This article examines the movements for reform to civil service quotas, and for improved road safety, seen primarily in Dhaka in 2018. Such movements pose two principal threats to the ruling party: first, they have the potential to undermine their legitimacy and create a moment of crisis on which the opposition could capitalise; second, they can exacerbate tensions between interest groups on whom the ruling party rely to maintain power. The state response of concessions and repression reflects these threats and the delicate balance of maintaining legitimacy while using coercion. With a rich history of political movements and a lack of alternative channels for political expression, responding to grievances that can motivate such movements will be an important challenge for the ruling party to maintain their grip on power.