Is there anything called student politics anymore?

BUET students demonstrate protesting entry of BCL leaders on the campusProthom Alo file photo

There has been much talk about student politics for quite some time now. Recently the debate over not permitting student politics in the Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology (BUET) reached a height. There are several relevant factors involved in the issue. Firstly, politics, secondly, student politics, and thirdly, how political conduct should be in educational institutions.

There was a certain type of politics here during the colonial times. That was a yearning for independence, and preparation, movement and organisation to that end. After independence we saw no relenting in the politics of the past. We still go to the streets, calling out to the struggling people. The question is, against whom is this struggle?

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We had seen the movement for socialism in a certain global context. The youth were the vanguard of that movement. In the sixties and seventies, the wave of socialism swept all over the world, from the western hemisphere to our region too. After the international communist movement fell flat on its face, this trend in politics declined. After all, it was with the support of the Soviet Union, China and such countries that the socialist movement would run in countries around the world. The Communist Party of the Soviet Union would provide financial support to various countries and would literally rear communist parties in various countries.

Now it can be said that there is no socialism in any country at the present. In China, those who control the state wealth are the ones who rule in the name of the Communist Party. While the socialist movement has more or less vanished from the face of this earth, our nostalgic propensities lead us to still slam our fists down on the table and stir up storms in teacups over the politics of the forties, fifties, sixties and seventies.

The trend of student politics that we see post-’71, is in no way positive. In the days of Pakistan rule, the government which had no support of the people, had tried to use certain rowdy elements to form a student organisation that would wield its clout in the university. We saw this in the form of the National Student Front or NSF. But that too had certain limits. After the 1969 movement, many of them went into hiding, many were beaten up and fled, many even left the country. Such student politics died down after that.

But that trend reared its head once against after the country became independent in 1971. The political parties took up Muslim League’s politics of raising student forces. Previously all parties had student organisations. But these were wings of the political parties. Later we see that these become front organisations of the political parties with university units, college units. They practice national politics, not student politics.

After 1972, the Awami League government became quite desperate to maintain its clout in the universities and colleges and began to behave in an authoritarian manner. The university administration sided with them. We saw an incident in 1973 that set a bad precedence. No one in the top echelons of government wanted a student organisation of the opposition political parties to win in the DUCSU (Dhaka University Central Students Union) elections. Aided and abetted by the government, Chhatra League and Chhatra Union jointly snatched away the ballot boxes and snatched away the victory of the opposition too. This ushered in the culture of muscle power.

In April 1974, yet another alarming incident took place. Factional fights broke out within the student organisation of the ruling party over control of the university. Due to conflict between two youth leaders of the party, seven youth were killed in brushfire at Mohsin Hall. Those who died were students of the ruling party, those who killed them were also students of the ruling party. Politics came to a halt in the university.

The children of the big leaders we see around us are no part of Chhatra League or Chhatra Dal. Many of them do not even educate the children in this country

When politics reared its head again during the rule of Ziaur Rahman, we saw student organisations of the political parties in university. There was Awami League’s Chhatra League, JSD Chhatra League, BNP’s Chhatra Dal. They were also quite determined to establish their charisma. We saw the same during Ershad’s rule, though Ershad’s student organisation Chhatra Samaj did not make much headway.

It reached a point when, the student front of whichever political party was in power, held control of the university and college campuses. The opposition would be ousted from there. We saw that in the case of Chhatra Dal during BNP’s rule. Then during Awami League’s rule, Chhatra Dal was ousted. Now things have come to such a situation that we have no idea what the roles of the VC and provosts are, because it is the Chhatra League leaders who assign places in the students’ halls. And the newcomer students are relegated to the ‘guest room’. The ‘guest room’ culture indicates to what low level of civilisation we have sunk. No matter what rhetoric we may spew out about Digital Bangladesh and Smart Bangladesh, the ‘gono room’ (mass room) culture has the last laugh.

Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology (BUET) had been free of all this for quite some time. Those who excel in their SSC and HSC exams, get admitted into BUET though competitive admission exams. But now this system is under threat too. An ugly reflection of this is the killing of Abrar Farhad. Many of those in the ruling party who stay in the country as well as those who practice politics from outside of the country, contended that Abrar was involved in Shibir politics. From their words it is apparent that anyone can be tarred with the Shibir smear and beaten to death.

This had an adverse effect in BUET. The common students go there to study. They know that at the end of their studies they will try t get jobs in the country. But there is no guarantee that they will get jobs here. Many of them get good results and go abroad. They get admitted through competition to many top educational institutions around the world.

The children of the big leaders we see around us are no part of Chhatra League or Chhatra Dal. Many of them do not even educate the children in this country. Many of them do Awami League or BNP politics overseas. Their fathers and grandfathers are members of parliament here.  They do not need a background of student politics to become an MP. Their children will not be involved in such rotten student politics. The offspring of others will blow their trumpets for them. This is a double-standard.

We no longer see any demands or debate related to student problems or problems of the educational institutions. What we see in the educational institutions is Awami League politics, BNP politics, or politics of Jamaat-e-Islami. The other political parties are weak and so their presence on campus is weak too. The bottom line is, there is no student politics in the country. What exists is a practice that had trickled down from the rotting and rancid national politics. If students want to discuss and negotiate solutions for the problems of their institutions or their overall problems, if they want their demands to be met, they can do so with the university authorities or the hall authorities. Why should there be committees of the political parties’ associate organisations?                           

  * Mohiuddin Ahmad is a writer and researcher

* This column appeared in the print and online edition of Prothom Alo and has been rewritten for the English edition by Ayesha Kabir

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