The politics which has emerged in absence of Dhaka University Central Students' Union (DUCSU) on the campus, is founded on muscle power, said Mohammad Tanzimuddin Khan, associate professor of Dhaka University’s international relations department.
The Dhaka University teacher thinks that student politics in the university, over time, has become criminalised to an extent. Muscle power and hooliganism have replaced the predispositions of the student leadership. “I like to term this as criminalised politics and to resolve the crisis, DUCSU is a must.”
He also said the criminalisation of the politics has also criminalised those who try to shun such corrupted politics.
The common students are the worst sufferers from the absence of the DUCSU politics, he added.
“As no political party other than the ruling party is present on the campus, the expression of the different thoughts and practices of free thinking have become risky. Even the ruling party’s student wing monitors the Facebook activities of the students. Who they like and whom they follow on social media determines whether they would be allowed in the halls or not,” said Tanzimuddin.
“The DUCSU election is a challenge for every one of us. Now, let us see how the university administration will meet this challenge which simply depends on the goodwill of the authorities.”
He further said the type of coexistence should have been there for a participatory election is totally absent.
Full text of the interview:
Prothom Alo: It has been 28 years. In the nearly three decades, no political party in power for the last several decades showed the slightest interest in the DUCSU election. Why is this election suddenly so important now?
Mohammad Tanzimuddin Khan (MTK): We saw the movement against [Hussain Muhammad] Ershad’s autocratic regime could not succeed until the mainstream political parties and student platforms took the leadership. When the student leaders, especially of DUCSU, took leadership of the movement, it gained success. But, this success brought no good to the universities. Instead, this historic triumph had apparently instilled fear among those who ascended to power overthrowing Ershad after 1991. Their fear was of the power of the students who played an independent role during any crisis of the country. There is another fear that the students could anytime challenge partisan politics and hence threaten their leadership in the future. Thus, the then DUCSU leaders who later joined mainstream politics also became afraid of their existence. They thought that this kind of platform might challenge their leadership as well. Consequently, we see the political parties were apathetic about any further DUCSU elections.
We joined Dhaka University as students immediately after the last DUCSU election. We then had a hope that another DUCSU election would be held. The hope of a new DUCSU encouraged the student leaders to shoulder the responsibility of the common students in the dormitories. DUCSU elections create responsible leadership and a common platform of leadership through which the authority could run the university quite easily. When the hope of another DUCSU election faded in course of time, student politics in the university became criminalised to an extent. Muscle power and hooliganism replaced the predispositions of the student leadership. The common students suffer the most in absence of the DUCSU politics. Now, the tasks for the university administration are not so easy. The teachers, too, are failing to function properly in the administration. If there were DUCSU politics, it could have made their tasks easier. They could easily regulate the university in a legal and normal way.
As no political parties other than the ruling party are present on campus, the expression of the different thoughts and practices of free thinking have become risky. The ruling party’s student wing even monitors the Facebook activities of the students. Who they like and whom they follow on social media determines whether they would be allowed in the halls or not. Activists of the ruling party's student wing have even kicked out some of their fellow political leaders and activists due to their social media posts. The absence of DUCSU politics has killed the democratic practices in the other student organisations. So, those with muscle power and use it are exploiting the organisations.
The teachers are in a dilemma too and are virtually helpless. They fail to carry out their roles in managing hall administration. Even the university administration is failing to perform their regular responsibilities towards the common students.
The politics, which has been emerged in absence of DUCSU on the campus, is founded on muscle power and, what I like to term, criminalised politics. To resolve the crisis, DUCSU is a must. There is no alternative to DUCSU.
PA: Once the election had been held, will DUCSU leadership create a balance of power or clash of power?
MTK: This apprehension itself will prevent the DUCSU election from being held. The bottom line is, no one is certain whether the Chhatra League will controll the DUCSU through this election. It is not true that all the Chhatra League men are practicing corrupted politics. There are many good leaders in the student wing. The main question is about what type of election is to be held. The quality of the election will determine the quality of the leadership in DUCSU. And it depends on how the university administration would like to see the election. It depends on whether an atmosphere of a real competitive election, a participatory and the coexistence on the campus have been created. There are still good signs.
As I spend a good amount of time on the campus, I saw the students of the first year and second year are forced join rallies at midnight. The students have to attend political briefings at the guestrooms of the respective dormitories as well. If it is apparent that such coercive practices are not making then popular, then the question arises whether the election will eventually be held at all.
PA: Given the current political context, is a participatory election possible?
MTK: Politics in Dhaka University is not anything different from the national politics. University politics is not out of the management and characteristics of the national politics as well. We are the university teachers whom the society treat differently from others and view as conscientious. Universities also have the potential to work against any accumulated frustration of the nation. If we can behave as ‘real university teachers’ and value the image of the university in a true sense, no doubt, we have the ability to take university politics away from the degradation of national politics. To this end, DUCSU election is a challenge for every one of us. Now, let us see how the university administration will meet this challenge which simply depends on the goodwill of the authorities, and whether it really wants to exercise the true freedom will determine the quality of a DUCSU election.
PA: Political coexistence is necessary for an impartial DUCSU election. Is such coexistence present on campus?
MTK: As I am student adviser, I have to get in touch with the students and listen to their experiences on campus. The indicators of student welfare are absent. The type of coexistence that should have been there is totally absent. The nature of mainstream politics is even gripping the debating clubs at the university. The debaters are afraid to speak freely. The topics of a debate, whether the topics create any different thinking among the debaters, and even who will win the debate, are all determined by political influence. Under these circumstances, the administration should at least try to begin to regain the control. As the election is 2 or 3 months away [March], there is enough time yet to start the process.
PA: Why did the leaders of the then DUCSU politicians themselves go against it?
MTK: The DUCSU leaders were the main catalyst to stop any future election. Those who joined to mainstream politics and incorporated the power, the privileges and wealth, felt that it might challenge their authority in future. As the university has a history of often being a catalyst to political changes in the country throughout the history, it had brought imprecation to the universities. Following that, whoever came in power, first tried to control over the universities. They crippled independent politics in the university. Lack of confidence has led them to this point.
PA: Will you blame the absence of DUCSU and similar politics in other universities for the current political crisis?
MTK: In the first place, this crisis has not emerged overnight. It is not a crisis which has arisen over the last 10 years. Those who rescued democracy from autocracy decades ago did not strive to develop democracy institutionally. The politics is totally dependent on some specific individual’s support and popularity. That is why the political party has not been developed as a democratic institution. Democratic practices inside a political party are very limited. The politics is directed by some particular persons. So, in the process, the politics has created some popular figures, instead of a strong political platform. The democratic practices inside a political party were missing. As a result, party politics has emerged. No single political party is responsible for that. Each and every leader after the 1990s follows autocratic practices. Today’s crisis is the spillover effect of the autocracy inside of the political parties.
On the other hand, a party which was in the opposition in the last 10 years showed an absurd characteristic. When the party fell out of power, its leaders simply turned to their own business. They were far away from interests of the people. They did not pay heed to the suffering of the people. They had no headache about the rise in prices of electricity, gas and other services. They did not have any feelings about these matters and seldom uttered any words regarding this. The political leaders have been living inside their limited political thinking. Subsequently, when they have come to power, they have exploited the power and become a monster. So, this is not a matter of a single political party. This political crisis is the result of the continued practices of the political culture after 1991.