Minister for Liberation War Affairs, AKM Mozammel Haque, sees a high tide rising within Chhatra League. Speaking at a reunion of Chhatra League in Sreepur, Gazipur, he said, "There is no reason to get excited seeing the high tide. You must remember, after the tide rises, it recedes too. Those who are joining Chhatra League during the high tide, will all disappear when the tide recedes."
The honourable minister may see a high tide, but the general students see no such rising tide in Chhatra League. There is no reason for them to see any such tide. Chhatra League's activities are only visible when clashes erupt between its rivaling factions or when they get embroiled in a display of muscle with other organisations. They are nowhere to be seen when it comes to the students' demands or anything to do with education.
About a month ago, the Dhaka College Chhatra League got involved in clashes with traders of New Market. Two poor workers were killed in the violence. Video footage shows Chhatra League activists wearing helmets hacking a courier service employee, Nahid, to death. There was no conflict between the students of Dhaka College and the traders of New Market. Following a fracas between the shop assistants of two fast food stores, one of the shop assistants 'hired' the helmeted Chhatra League men.
Even in the recent battle we saw at Dhaka University Chhatra League 'hiring' leaders and workers from outside of the campus. In our childhood we would see if there were not enough players in our own locality, players from other localities would be hired to ensure the team wins. But if Chhatra League has to hire cadres from outside to tackle Chhatra Dal, which has already been driven out of the campus, then that hardly is a sign of high tide.
The violence on Dhaka University campus spread out to the court premises. Chhatra League men on Thursday attacked Chhatra Dal leaders and workers around the Supreme Court premises. Alongside Dhaka University Chhatra League leaders and activists, many leaders and activists from outside also joined in the attack. In the frontline of attack were followers of Dhaka City South unit Chhatra League general secretary, Jobayer Ahmed. Jobayer is known to be a close associate of president of central Chhatra League, Al Nahiyan. Jobayer had been arrested on 18 May on allegations of attacking RAB personnel, but was released on bail within two days.
If Chhatra League takes the decisions about who will be assaulted on campus and who will be allowed to hold rallies and processions, then what is the use of having a university administration?
Aspirant for the top post of Dhaka College Chhatra League Samad Azad and his followers were also seen quite reckless during the attack. Samad is one of those in the leading role during the clashes in April with shop owners, employees and hawkers in the New Market area. He is also known to be close to the Chhatra League president.
Chhatra League claims that Chhatra Dal, armed with sticks, rods and local weapons, had tried to create unrest on campus and that is why progressive students had resisted them. They did not identify who the progressive students were. In the past when progressive student organisations had demonstrated on campus against violence and anarchy, they were resisted jointly by Chhatra League and the university administration. The Chhatra League leaders didn't spare them then despite their being progressive. The meaning of the word 'progressive' changes with time for Chhatra League.
From video footage, photographs and eye-witness accounts, Prothom Alo has ascertained the identity of another 11 of those who took part in the attack. They include central Chhatra League vice president Rakib Hossain, programmes and planning affairs secretary Saddam Hossain, mass education affairs secretary Abdullah Hil Bari, private university affairs secretary Al-Amin Rahman, deputy secretary of library and publication affairs Amanullah Aman, deputy office secretary Nazir Ahmed, Dhaka University's Haji Muhammad Mohsin Hall Chhatra League president Shahidul Huq alias Shishir, Dhaka University's Masterda Surja Sen Hall leader Syed Shariful Alam, Sir AF Rahman Hall leaders Abdur Rahim Sarkar, Salahuddin Ahmed alias Saju and Absar Hasan alias Rana.
There is no evidence that since independence, the pro-Awami League Chhatra League has won support of the general students at Dhaka University
The conflict was sparked off by a derogatory remark made about Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina by central Chhatra Dal president Saif Mahmud. In response to the remark, on the evening of 22 May Chhatra League launched an attack on Chhatra League leaders and activists at Dhaka University's Teachers Students Centre (TSC). In protest of this attack and to clarify Saif Mahmud's statement, Chhatra League called a press briefing on 24 May at TSC. While they were on their way to the venue on 24 May morning, the Chhatra Dal procession was attacked by Chhatra League.
This means that Chhatra League is unwilling to even allow Chhatra Dal to explain themselves. At any other time, Chhatra Dal activists disperse if attacked by Chhatra League, but this time they came somewhat prepared. They too, like Chhatra league, brought along leaders and activists from outside the campus. Both sides had sticks, rods and local weapons. Chhatra League says Chhatra Dal's outside leaders had come armed, to create chaos on campus. If they had actually made such an attempt, Chhatra League should have reported it to the authorities. Instead of doing that, they took the law into their own hands. And even if Chhatra League failed to report, why did the university authorities not make any effort to defuse the situation? Did they want turmoil on the campus? If Chhatra League takes the decisions about who will be assaulted on campus and who will be allowed to hold rallies and processions, then what is the use of having a university administration?
For 15 years Chhatra Dal has been deprived of the taste of power and its leaders and activists remain in fear. They came up fourth in the last DUCSU election. If they want to hold any rally or procession on campus, they have to bring in leaders and activists from outside. But why does the mighty Dhaka University unit Chhatra League have to bring in outsiders to tackle the weak Chhatra Dal? They have made themselves equal to Chhatra Dal.
There is no evidence that since independence, the pro-Awami League Chhatra League has won support of the general students at Dhaka University. Chhatra Union won the Dhaka University Central Students Union elections in 1972. In 1973 Chhatra League still failed to win, even jointly with Chhatra Union. They snatched the ballot boxes and disrupted the election. In 1974 Chhatra League's internal feuds led to seven murders. In the eighties, Chhatra League leader Sultan Mohammed Mansur became DUCSU VP in the election contested as an alliance. The pro-JSD Chhatra League Mustaq Hossain and Chhatra Union's Nasiruddoza were elected joint general secretaries. The next year VP and GS came from Chhatra Dal. But after the fall of the autocratic rule, no matter how democratic they claimed themselves to be, neither Awami League nor BNP were willing to hold DUCSU elections.
After many movements and legal fights, in 2019 the DUCSU election was finally held again. The results did not go in favour of those in power. Through this election, Nurul Huq's Chhatra Odhikar Parishad emerged as a new force on the scene. He became the VP. Though Chhatra League bagged the posts of general secretary and several other posts, it did not dare to hold any election again. Chhatra League has the backing of a party like Awami League, the support of the government, of the administration and the police (while many Chhatra Dal activists were injured in the Chhatra League attack, the cases were filed against Chhatra Dal men), so why should such a student organisation be scared of holding an election?
* Sohrab Hasan is joint editor of Prothom Alo and a poet, He can be contacted at [email protected]
* This column appeared in the print and online edition of Prothom Alo and has been rewritten by Ayesha Kabir for the English edition