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1 March, 2019 11:35:06 AM / LAST MODIFIED: 1 March, 2019 11:35:30 AM


Student politics need a revamp

In contemporary Bangladesh the major responsibility of the students is to develop themselves as worthy citizens and leaders of this country
Syed Mehdi Momin
Student politics need a revamp

The last time the DUCSU (Dhaka University Central Students’ Union) elections were held was on June 6, 1990. Yours truly had just became a student of Dhaka University.

And I after so many years the great deal of enthusiasm showed by the general students, teachers, political activists and leaders. As a matter of fact it would be hardly an overstatement to say that the whole nation was quite eager about the elections.  At that time HM Ershad was president and in fact the student body played perhaps the pivotal role in ousting the dictator.

This year the DUCSU elections will be held on March 11 after 28 years of hiatus. This time a democratic government is in power. But the level of enthusiasm just a few days before the election is lukewarm. Among many other things this lack of ardour indicated a general apathy among the students about politics and also how irrelevant student politics, as has been practiced in this country, has become for the common people. This article is basically about whether student politics as is practiced now is really relevant after nearly 48 years of independence.

 Bangladesh’s political parties all have student wings, with students often acting as ‘muscle’ for the parties. In many cases, the authorities are forced to close down universities after violence and this is hampering academic activities in universities. A culture of immunity prevails among many members of the student and youth wings of whichever party and their allies are in power. They get away with rampant arson, extortion, rape, murder and what not. They are not content with crushing opponents using brute force, violent intra-party feuds have become the norm rather than  the exception.

As part of redefining the philosophy of the student politics, the government should also bring changes in the process of appointment of the university administration. All important positions, including Vice-Chancellor and Pro-Vice-Chancellor, are getting appointed on political consideration. Thus, teachers who aspire to hold those positions, try to use the support of the leaders of the student wing of the ruling party. Such initiative is not only putting a black spot on the teacher-student relationship, but also creating scope for further exploitation of the administrative activities by the leaders of student wing.

Now no one can deny that the students in Bangladesh have a glorious history. In every movement our youth have been at the vanguard. The 1952 language movement was a movement virtually propelled by the youth. It was they who sacrificed their lives to ensure the rightful place of our mother tongue. In 1966 it was the students who took to the streets against the Hamudur Rahman education committee report. Again in 1969 it was the youth who made possible the overthrow of dictator Ayub Khan through the mass upsurge. The senior political leadership came into the picture only at the fag’s end. Everyone knows about the heroism and sacrifice of the students in 1971.

 Even after the Liberation War the youth have been at the forefront of all the political struggles. In 1990 the autocratic regime of HM Ershad was brought down by a grand alliance of student activists of virtually all opposition political parties. Also during the military backed caretaker government rule it was students of the various universities who showed the courage to come out in the streets to protest against the injustices perpetrated by the then government. However it can be safely said that the golden era of student politics came to an end in 1990.

The election of 1990 which was supposed to confirm our democratic ideals instead became a vehicle for guile and divisions. Student leaders, especially those of the two major political parties, shifted their focus on personal gains. Those who run these universities, as part of their strategy to accommodate politicians, were more than willing to cater to the student-apostles of the politicians.

Actually to be frank ever since the inception of this country, students have been used time and again by almost all major political parties and their leaders for their own petty interests. As said earlier this trend has been seen with increasing frequency since 1990. And of course this has done more harm than good. It has caused too many deaths, both of people actively involved and not involved in politics. Too many injuries, too many hours of classes and academic days have been lost. Of course it is also true many students have allowed them to be used as pawns of political outfits.

This writer is not for a carpet ban on student politics as they are perhaps the most conscious section of the population. In an independent and democratic country participating in politics in different ways is an indispensable part of culture. Detaching the students from politics in an educational institution is equal to extinction of democracy while true democracy demands the involvement of each and every citizen.

However this writer strongly believes that student politics in its current form must be done away with. Students should be imparted political education in their schools and colleges through debates, discussion or lectures. Acting as political hooligans is no task for a student.  They will indeed protest when the situation demands. As indeed they did during the anti-quota movement and the movement for safe roads. And in both cases they did not need the patronage of political parties. Neither did the students of the Shahbagh movement need political patronage.

The powers that be must realize that the times and circumstances of the youth today are not similar to what it was decades earlier. One must realise that today's youth have all grown up in a free country. Most of the young people today are basically fed up with politics or more precisely politicians. They are apolitical. And who can blame them? The politicians are not exactly setting a perfect example. Are they? There is no such thing as internal democracy in the political parties. The young people are seeing the veteran politicians shifting allegiance for their narrow selfish ends. And the less one speaks about the so-called student leaders (many of whom ceased being students years back and are in their thirties) the better. Politics in Bangladesh have become totally dominated by a few major families. There has been a criminalisation of politics on an unprecedented scale. The politicians have used the youth as musclemen to terrorise other party members. One can argue that the youth have let themselves be used and it is true to a good degree.

If the country is to be permanently cured of the vulgar medieval-practice of ‘might is right’ as is the practice by student politicians and their patrons, the entire country must agree on acceptable answers to two fundamental questions — what constitutes acceptable ‘student politics’ and what purposes must it serve? The informed citizenry can reflect on the tradition of protest and participation in political and civic affairs that go back to the colonial era which was also part of the glorious past of our larger community.

The current form of student politics is not only disturbing the academic environment of the institutions and depriving our future generation to nourish their potential, it is also jeopardising the possibility of Bangladesh’s stated goal to develop into a mid-income country. The environment of research is also affected in the universities by the present avatar of student politics. There is no burden on the student of liberating the country and there is no burden on the students to establish democracy in our country. Now the only responsibility of the students is to develop themselves as the worthy citizens and leaders for future Bangladesh.

The character that the present student politics takes up not only is worrying for the present but it is more worrying for the future thinking that what type of leadership is waiting for us in the future. The present political leadership of both government and opposition have the responsibility (which they are blatantly disregarding) to develop future leadership for the country who will be decent, honest, committed to democracy and peoples’ welfare. But what are we seeing? The picture is in absolute contradiction to our expectation.  

Student politics needs to be separated from the mainstream politics and be mainly confined to the benefits of the students and only regular students would be allowed to do politics in the campus. A line is must be drawn between the campus politics and politics outside the campus. The teachers should also disassociate themselves from mainstream politics in the campus and should not use the students to keep their influence in the campus intact. The primary duty of the students is to build their career and after leaving the educational institutions they should ideally focus on the service of their country and countrymen. Indeed, students’ activism on the basis of their respective organisations (that must not be affiliated with the parties) if confined to a certain limit must not be objected by us. They should take part in social and welfare activities for the sake of their country but should not waste their time and energy in meaningless political agitations.

It’s time to take steps against the harmful sides of student politics. This is important to build up a knowledge-based society. And to make that happen, sincerity and co-operation of our political parties are needed. We have to make sure that student unions are used for their own interests, and not for other political parties.

The evidence suggests that the students at our public universities have interpreted student politics as the politicisation of every aspect of university life — personalised partisan politics for personal gain. And this has been carried out with the tacit collaboration of the professors and senior administration. Unless the government, the political parties, the general public, and mainly the current university communities of students, professors and administrators act with haste and seriousness, the country’s system of higher learning will crumble into the ground. The graduates of these universities must join the task of rebuilding the institutions; the Universities Grant Commission must acknowledge drawbacks and re-evaluate its role so as to be more relevant; the political leadership must take a critical look on what has, and is, happening; and the media must, with due diligence, expose every aspect of the institutions that fail to meet generally acceptable standards of conduct.    

Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has, on several occasions, expressed her disgust at the activities of Bangladesh Chhatra League. She even declined at times to meet with the feuding student leaders of Dhaka University and even withdrew her name from the list of patrons of the student organisation. While we appreciate the moves by the Prime Minister these moves didn’t prove to be enough to quell the tension in the academic institutions.

It is high time that a new and vibrant form of student activism is developed in Bangladesh. It should be stated categori ally that student politics could become a positive activity only if it is regulated by students, and may be to some extent the faculty, but not at all by political parties.  Their vested interests make all the difference. Successive governments and university authorities have failed miserably to deliver on the responsibility of maintaining the peaceful academic atmosphere in the campuses and to continue the academic exercises unhindered.

The writer is the Senior Assistant Editor of The Independent




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Published by the Editor on behalf of Independent Publications Limited at Media Printers, 446/H, Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1215.
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Editor : M. Shamsur Rahman
Published by the Editor on behalf of Independent Publications Limited at Media Printers, 446/H, Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1215.
Editorial, News & Commercial Offices : Beximco Media Complex, 149-150 Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1208, Bangladesh. GPO Box No. 934, Dhaka-1000.

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