Almost 11 years at the helm, ruling Awami League seems to have suddenly been hit by a storm. Whether the political players will learn a lesson from recent events is another matter.
Two top leaders of the student wing Chhatra League have lost their posts in this storm. Jubo League is facing mounting challenges. Its president Omar Faruk Chowdhury is not taking the sudden crackdown so easily, turning to question the law enforcers, “What were you doing all these days?”
That is a valid question. But the law enforcers can also ask him how the Frankenstein had been created within Jubo League. How will he reply?
Omar Faruk Chowdhury is the 59-year-old leader of the ruling party’s youth wing. Before we go into analysing his statements, we can take a look at the background of the raging storm that has struck.
Recently, Chhatra League president Rezwanul Huq and general secretary Golam Rabbani were removed from their posts which they had taken up on 31 July last year. Forming committees in Bangladesh’s political parties and students fronts is a strange phenomenon.
The Chhatra League council was held on 11-12 May last year and the names of the organisation’s president and general secretary were announced on 31 July. The full-fledged committee was declared on 13 May this year.
Awami League claims to be a dynamic party, yet this is how it operates. The president and general secretary of its student front had to be removed within 5 months of the full-fledged committee being formed. It is alleged that they had approached the vice chancellor of Jahangirnagar University, demanding a huge amount of money as a ‘fair share’ of the development work in campus.
And now the government has turned its focus on Jubo League. Prime minister and Awami League president Sheikh Hasina, at a recent meeting of the party, had questioned the role of a Jubo League leader and his extortion. She questioned another one going around openly brandishing firearms. She said she was keeping tabs on all of them.
On Wednesday, the Rapid Action Battalion (RAB) arrested Dhaka South Jubo League general secretary Khaled Mahmud Bhuiyan and recovered illegal firearms, liquor, foreign currency and yaba from his house. On the same day they raided his Young Men’s Club in Fakirapool, where they arrested 142 employees and recovered foreign currency, liquor and yaba. RAB raided and sealed casinos in Gulistan and Banani.
Quoting intelligence agencies, the media reported that there are around 60 casinos in Dhaka, mostly controlled by Jubo League. Khaled Mahmud ran the Young Men’s Club casino also with gambling rackets in 16 other clubs.
Another Jubo League leader, Islam Hossain Samrat, also runs casinos. RAB raided his house but failed to nab him. Awami League and Jubo League leaders also run casinos outside of Dhaka city.
Al Nahean Khan and Lekhak Bhattachajee have been installed as acting president and acting general secretary of Chhatra League. They led a delegation of the student body to meet with the prime minister at Ganabhaban on Thursday. She told them she didn’t want to hear any complaints any more. “After Chhatra League, I have now turned to Jubo League. I will clear up all these social aberrations one by one. It will not be easy, but I will do it,” she said.
In the meantime, Chhatra League activists beat up demonstrating students of left-wing organisations on Dhaka University campus.
On the day that RAB conducted the raid on Khaled Mahmud’s casino, Jubo League chairman Omar Faruk Chowdhury spoke at a triennial conference of the organisation in the city. Addressing the law enforcement agencies, he said, “You all claim there are 60 casinos, so what were you all doing about it all these days? What about the police in those 60 areas? Arrest them. Arrest the RAB personnel on duty in those areas. Anyone committing a crime must be punished. Why are the arrests being now? You all knew all about this, so what were you doing? Or were you assisting them? If I am a criminal, what are you? Who are you to accuse me?”
He went on to say, “So are you going to arrest me? Go ahead. I am in politics and will be arrested a hundred times. If I was committing a crime, what were you doing? If you arrest me, I will not remain silent. You will be arrested too. You aided and abetted the crimes.”
He raised the question, “Why have you suddenly risen up now? Are you out to cripple the party?”
Omar Faruk Chowdhury was least abashed that yaba and illegal arms were recovered from the home of a Jubo League leader. Instead he aggressively counter questioned the law enforcement. He didn’t spare the news media either, asking why they had not exposed all this since they knew about it beforehand.
However, if Omar Faruk Chowdhury cared to read the newspapers, he would have seen that the journalists did not hide anything. On 14 December 2013, Prothom Alo reported about the ‘indoor games’ gambling rackets at Fakirapool Young Men’s Club, Club Pavilion Fakirapool, Arambagh Club, Dilkusha Club, DTS Club, Brothers Union Club, Dhaka Wanderers Club, Arambagh Krira Sangha and more. In fact, there were even killings over sharing the gambling profits.
After the prime minister’s warning, Jubo League issued a statement in the media, about forming a tribunal to try the accused. That is quite an innovative step. If any leader or worker goes against the party constitution, the constitution has provision for their punishment. There is no need for any tribunal. And if any leaders or workers of the organisation commit a criminal offence, action will be taken in accordance with the prevailing laws of the land. The law enforcement is there to carry this duty out.
Omar Faruk Chowdhury is the chairman of Jubo League. Is it believable that he had no idea about the activities of his Jubo League men Khaleda Mahmud or Ismail Hossain Samrat? He claims Dhaka South Jubo League to be the best organisation. He termed Samrat to be the best organiser.
In the latest news report, we hear that a raid was carried out on the office of Jubo League leader GK Shamim, where FDR of Tk 2 billion was found along with Tk 12.5 million was recovered.
The man whom the Jubo League chairman termed as the best organiser, has been castigated by the prime minister for brandishing firearms in public. So the Jubo League chairman is not challenging the law enforcement, but the prime minister herself. But to no avail. Within 14 hours of his tirade against the law enforcement, he had to sign the expulsion order against the ‘best organiser’ Khaled Mahmud.
* Sohrab Hassan is associate editor of Prothom Alo and a poet. This column appeared in the print edition of Prothom Alo and has been rewritten in English by Ayesha Kabir.