There was a time when there was a space for student politics. In a disorganised education system universities and colleges needed a students group to address issues related to students welfare. And in a one-off situation they were the lead soldiers in the War of Liberation. But they alone weren’t freedom fighters, the farmers and general people and even thieves and dacoits also fought for freedom.
Unfortunately their return to mainstream life of students was badly managed. Times have changed and so has the purpose of student politics.
Maintained by the major political parties as associate bodies, they were used mostly by opposition parties to further their philosophies. The smaller acts of indiscipline were ignored emboldening them further till they became the monoliths that as recent events show and ran out of control. Yet we have two straight comments by politicians that go against the unstated public demand, the end of student politics.
Obaidul Quader, himself a Chhatra League at one stage and Ruhul Kabir Rizvi the de facto spokesperson of BNP have issued statements supporting students' participation in politics despite the news of excesses committed by the League.
Years ago, the prime minister instructed Chhatra League to be involved in community work as well as in efforts to help the less meritorious in their studies. No fixed objectives were outlined and gradually corruption and extortion became common among student activists. Student body occasions have a cost component tagged to it, as is the case with politicians. One wonders where this kind of money comes from. At one time finances were managed through voluntary donations; today they aren’t voluntary any more.
Universities are essentially states within a state and there are allegations of payouts being arranged from development funds to keep the peace. The Chhatra League as with the Chhatra Dal before them, denies such practices. But talk to shop keepers and street vendors and the truth is known easily enough. In this day and age of social media, excesses can no longer hidden. The tragedy that lead to Abrar Ahmed being killed is so well apparent in CCTV coverage that it boggles the mind as to what extent these excesses can go. And the allegation of Jahangirnagar University’s Vice-Chancellor of having paid a Tk 10 million to the Central Students funds can be easily checked. By tracing the paper trail of transactions that are required by banks.
That students have to pay student bodies to secure a valuable seat in the hostels is common knowledge. University costs, especially the canteen food miserable as it may be, are highly subsidised yet this is still not to their liking. And their search for a more flashy lifestyle is surely not funded by their parents. Many take on jobs part time, others try to set up small businesses, while still others have a share in the flower and restaurant business that thrives in the area. The same applies for Jubo League and Jubo Dal workers. The recent casino operation revelations have cast more than a mere shadow over the activities of the parties, though currently it is the Jubo League that is under a scanner more than any other group. Such a well defined network of gambling dens cannot have been set up without help from influential quarters. The information is with the Prime Minister and the nation awaits the outcome. Mere expulsion of a few from the party isn’t enough. People with such tendencies don’t deserve a second chance. A badly damaged Identity can only be fixed by behaviour that will change peoples’ mindset and for that only some kind of special initiative can help.
As for the Vice-Chancellors-four of whom are about to be fired, facing a variety of allegations, theirs is an exalted position that should be occupied by people with backbones. The role of students' unions should be taken up by the Central Students Union with the backing of university authorities. It doesn’t help when VCs are more often seen in Dhaka than their work places or diverting money from the university development funds. If the whole truth comes out remedial measures can be taken. Otherwise the monoliths will be totally out of control.
A communications and regulatory affairs specialist, Mahmudur Rahman has worked as head of function with British American Tobacco Bangladesh, Robi and served as the CEO of Bangladesh Cricket Board.