Student politics in Bangladesh has a glorious past. It has a proud history of struggle and making supreme sacrifice for the national interest during all crisis movements of the country, including the language movement, mass movement of 1969, Liberation War, and the overthrowing of military dictator in 1990s.
Until then, student leaders were mostly ideology driven who were required to get elected through the vote of their members. During that time, the vivacity of student politics was quite high as they remained busy in dealing with pro-people activities that was highly appreciated by the general mass. The student community at that time was found standing beside for the cause of students as well as for the oppressed people or for any greater national interest.
In an independent country, the main goal of students’ politics should be to get involved in the activities of the institutions and bargain with the university authority to preserve the interest of the students. Unfortunately, the philosophy of student politics in the recent times has shifted towards the individual goal attainments instead of thinking for the interests of the students. It has become the extension of the national politics. Thus, student leaders prefer to serve the interest of their own political parties in their national affairs. Due to shifting philosophy of student politics, it has lost its fames and glories and it has become a piece of criticism.
We have witnessed the devastating form of student politics since 1991. From this period of time, students have started using politics as a profession. They have started indulging in all sorts of unfair means in order to gain their personal interests. They have started to be used as a weapon by the teachers as well who are using them for their personal gains.
The post 2000 situation has aggravated quite sharply. To be honest, we have started to see a totally opposite dimension of student politics. We have seen that student organizations of the ruling party have remained busy in tender-related violence all over the country. It is widely alleged that the bidders are prevented from dropping their tenders. Apart from tender-related violence, extortion has become another issue of concern for the party in power where, in most cases, the culprits are activists of contemporary ruling party student wings. We have witnessed the devastating activities of Chhatra Dal during 2001-2006 which were vehemently criticized by the majority of the countrymen. During 1996-2001, the AL government did not face much difficulty in controlling the activities of the Chhatra League. But, the government has been highly criticized for not being able to control the distressing activities of its student wing since 2009 onwards.
In the recent times, our experience shows that the student wings of ruling party remain busy in capsizing the opposition students’ wings from the campus. Thus, they remain at bay in the campus. At present, Chhatra League has been able to crown itself as the de facto administrator of many public universities. Very often, they are found getting involved in manipulation of power for financial rewards.
Intra-party political clashes have also become a common phenomenon in today’s university campus. Earlier, the clashes were taking place among inter-party political wings. Since the political wings of the opposition parties are either weak or capsized from the campus, the ruling party student wings remain busy in establishing their supremacy in the campus. In their endeavour to establish supremacy, the political clashes are taking place among different fractions of the ruling party wings. As a result of such clashes, incident of killing of students is taking place regularly. At some point of time, innocent and non-political students are also getting killed, which were evident through the killing of Bishwajit Das in 2012 who was beaten to death by a group of Chhatra League men who wrongly identified him as a member of their opposite group.
Very recently, several student wings of different political parties have started demanding for election of student unions in different public universities. We all know that the practice of election in student unions has become obsolete in Bangladesh for more than two decades. Historically, students union tended to carry out a range of functions of their members, including organizing social activities, providing support on a range of academic and welfare issues, representing students both individually and collectively, and campaigning on local and national issues. Unfortunately, we do not see the relative importance of these functions as elections are not taking place in student unions for long in the country.
Although, Bangladesh has witnessed radical changes in its higher education sector over the recent years, the role of the student union within this shifting landscape has not been given importance. Of course, one may pose questions on the changes criticizing whether the changes are quantitative or qualitative. But, it can be said without hesitation that, in the absence of the students’ union, the whole philosophy of student politics has changed.
At the same time, we should bear in mind that forming a students’ union through election would be not ensuring quality of students’ politics. Of course, this would offer legitimacy to students’ politics. At present, students’ political groups are not formal bodies of the institutions.
We all know that educational institutions are the ground of nurturing future leaders. Student leaders would make them capable to steer the country in the years to come. Unfortunately, this ground has changed into the domination of those so-called student leaders who do not believe in any ideology. Instead, they remain busy in maximizing their own benefits using their portfolios. The situation takes severe shapes when it concerns the student wing of the ruling party.
In order to bring glory and fame of student politics back, we all should play an important role. The politicians should cut their ties with the students’ wing. At the same time, institutions should encourage students to form student bodies for serving the interests of the students. Educational institutions should also reshape their role in enforcing academic rules and regulations regarding class attendance, examination, and participation in other academic and extra-curricular activities.
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. Thus, the government should rethink their policy and should take steps to appoint person in an administrative position through the Senate.
Finally, we expect that the government as well as all university administration would consider practising the student union election in their respective university. We have not forgotten the contribution of DUCSU and other students’ union in other universities in the critical movements of the country. Thus, all actors involved should work hard to bring back the glory of student politics in the country. The decision to open up the election system could be one positive step towards this objective.
The write is a Professor of Public Administration at the University of Rajshahi, Bangladesh