The central president and general secretary of the Bangladesh Chhatra League (BCL) are embroiled in a rivalry with the top two leaders of its most significant Dhaka University (DU) unit over different issues.
The DU unit leaders alleged that they do not receive due respect or political courtesy from the central leaders.
The longstanding feud has come to the fore following the recent student rally in the capital's Suhrawardy Udyan on 1 September, where prime minister Sheikh Hasina attended as the chief guest.
During the rally, the central president and secretary delivered speeches in the presence of the chief guest, leaving no opportunity for the DU unit leaders to speak.
Since the student rally, Mazharul and Tanbir have been vocal in criticising the top two BCL leaders and even demanded an end to some traditional practices that favour the central leadership.
It intensified the grievances of the DU unit leaders to the boiling point, as they claimed to have been undermined by the central leaders. Apart from them, leaders of the Dhaka city (North and South) units came up with a similar complaint.
With the approval of prime minister Sheikh Hasina, Awami League (AL) general secretary Obaidul Quader announced the new leadership of BCL on 20 December last year, including presidents and secretaries of the central committee, DU, Dhaka south, and Dhaka north units.
Saddam Hossain and Sheikh Wali Asif became central president and secretary, respectively, while Mazharul Kabir Shayon and Tanbir Hasan Shaikat took up the respective positions for the DU unit.
According to sources, tension arose between Saddam and Tanbir following the announcement and it led to clashes between their respective followers in different halls of the university.
The followers of Tanbir also clashed with loyalists of DU unit president Mazharul Kabir Shayon, but they have sorted out their differences, and the DU unit is now united against the central leaders.
Since the student rally, Tanbir and Shayon have been vocal in criticising the top two BCL leaders and even demanded an end to some traditional practices that favour the central leadership.
Against such a backdrop, there is growing concern among general students that the tension between central and DU unit leaders may lead to an unstable situation on the campus.
On the condition of anonymity, a student from Surja Sen Hall said the halls are under the control of four BCL factions – central president, secretary, DU unit president, and secretary. The academic environment may get hampered if the factions confront each other or engage in clashes.
There is a tradition that the leaders of DU and two Dhaka city units speak in the presence of prime minister Sheikh Hasina in the big events. But the current central leadership broke the longstanding practice by not allowing Mazharul and Tanbir to speak at the event.
Four days after the rally, Mazharul took to his verified Facebook handle to give a gentle reminder about the jurisdiction of the central leadership. Tanbir and four top leaders of the two Dhaka city units immediately shared the DU unit president's post on their Facebook timelines, which fueled their rivalry with the central committee.
In a conversation with Prothom Alo, Mazharul Kabir Shayon explained that they were supposed to speak at the rally in the presence of the prime minister. "We were informed that due to time shortage, we (DU unit president and secretary) would get 3 to 4 minutes to speak, while the central president and secretary would speak for eight minutes each."
"But we could not speak as they (the central leadership) prolonged their speeches. We do not know the reason behind it. They could have at least announced on the megaphone that there was no time for others to speak. They did not do it either. Even four days after the rally, the central president and general secretary did not contact us. They can better explain why they did it and why they did not show us even the minimum courtesy," he added.
Meanwhile, DU unit secretary Tanbir Hossain Shaikat said, "The DU unit is the heart of the BCL, but we are not receiving due respect. We do not know why we are being avoided. Speaking before the prime minister was our traditional right, and it is a dream of every loyalist of Sheikh Hasina. We have been deprived of this right."
Riaj Mahmud and Rajibul Islam, presidents of Dhaka north and south City units, respectively, also voiced similar allegations.
Sharing DU hall bodies, controlling seven affiliated colleges
The DU unit leaders have become vocal to reduce the influence of central leaders in forming hall committees, gain control over the seven DU-affiliated colleges, and obtain the power to permanently expel accused activists. In a sense, they are seeking 'parallel' status rather than governance by the central body.
The seven colleges are academically affiliated with Dhaka University. In BCL, they are under the central body of BCL. The DU unit has recently called a meeting for the students of the colleges, bypassing the central body.
Mazharul Kabir said, "Leaders and activists of the seven colleges are interested in engaging in political activities with us. We have taken the issue to AL general secretary Obaidul Quader, and he assured us of a decision after consulting with prime minister Sheikh Hasina."
Tanbir added, "The central committee cannot effectively oversee the leaders and activists of the seven colleges. They want to engage with us."
Regarding the tradition of sharing hall committees with the central leaders, Mazharul Kabir said they want to eliminate the trend of grouping from the DU unit. They believe that the grouping or influence of the central president and secretary in the halls poses a threat to the uniqueness of the DU unit.
He also pledged that if the tradition changes, no one will be deprived due to politics with the central leaders, and the most qualified individuals will be given priority.
Tanbir described the tradition of sharing hall committees with central leaders as a relic of the past that no longer fits the present. "There is no syndicate in the BCL now, and its only leader is Sheikh Hasina. We will break the tradition."
However, some BCL leaders and activists claimed that some loyalists of Mazharul and Tanbir were not given their desired positions in the central committee and it fueled their rivalry with the central leadership.
Regarding the power for permanent suspension, Tanbir said the DU unit BCL will now operate with the authority for permanent expulsion. This provision was included in the organisation's charter to favour some specific individuals, and many have exploited it for personal gain.
"The dark chapter is over. We will only pay heed to Sheikh Hasina," he added.
Statements from central leaders
BCL central president Saddam Hossain did not respond to repeated phone calls on Friday.
Sheikh Wali Asif said they could not allow the leaders of DU and Dhaka city units to speak due to a shortage of time. Prime minister Sheikh Hasina had a tight schedule, and attendees were fatigued due to the sun and rain. AL general secretary Obaidul QUader also did not want to speak but could not refuse the prime minister's request to deliver his speech.
Hence, the BCL general secretary believes that there is no valid ground to complain in this regard. He suggested that the issue could have been settled through discussion with the central president or secretary.
Regarding sharing hall committees, Sheikh Wali Asif said it is not like 'bread dividing by a monkey.' He is not aware of sharing any committees, but, he said, there is a tradition of forming committees in consultation with the top two central leaders.
Regarding control over the seven colleges, he explained that the issue is settled by the party charter. One can seek amendment to the charter, but demand should be placed before the central committee through due process.
Regarding the authority for permanent expulsion, he said anyone can make such a demand. "We want to run the organisation, by taking everyone's perspectives into consideration. Such demands can be considered based on logical grounds, but it is embarrassing for us to be informed by journalists."