Wednesday, 1 February, 2023

Is Student Politics Losing Relevance?

Pranab Kumar Panday

Is Student Politics Losing Relevance?
Pranab Kumar Panday

In Bangladesh, student politics have a long and illustrious history. History demonstrates how students who were active in politics sacrificed their lives in service to the nation in times of transition. During the Pakistan period, West Pakistan persecuted the people of the East, and the students of that era did not hesitate to risk their lives to free them. Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman began his political career as a student politician and earned the title "Father of the Bengali Nation" after leading the country to independence.

Bangabandhu's involvement in student politics began when he was pretty young. He first got involved in student politics before moving into national politics and becoming a key figure in the formation of the Awami League. Bangabandhu established Bangladesh Chhatra League. But over time, the pattern of student politics has changed. At one time, the leadership in student politics was elected through a democratic process. However, they have passed into history. As a result, the pertinent question that political experts and the general public discuss the most is whether student politics is fading into irrelevance or losing significance over time.

After the brutal killing of Bangabandhu, with most of his family members on the darkest night of August 15, 1975, the people of the country were crushed by the military rule until 1990. At that time, the student community of Bangladesh played a vital role in the movement against the military regime. Students from Dhaka University and other universities expressed their anger against the military government by taking to the streets. At various times, students involved in student politics organised massive movements against the military governments in the country. Even during the 1/11 government, the students of Dhaka University and Rajshahi University started movements against the government. But as time passes and modernity engulfs politics, the image of student politics erodes.

Since the leaders and workers linked with the student organisation of the party in power are more influential, their actions are more often discussed than those of the opposition party. This has developed into a perennial debate in Bangladeshi politics. Student politics have become increasingly centralised over time, making it harder to get to the top through more democratic channels. Qualified leaders are disinterested in student politics due to the abundance of pocket committees at different universities. Student politics is already tainted by the fact that national political leaders meddle in it too much.

By abusing their authority and promoting their cronies to key positions, these leaders are not only corrupting student leadership. It has also been observed that many individuals pursue leadership roles in student organisations at the national and local levels for monetary gain. Thus, if someone is made a leader in the exchange of money, his primary responsibility will be to recoup the cost of the purchase. This explains why several newspaper articles detailing recent allegations against student leaders have appeared. Therefore, I believe that these leaders will not help students attain the essential goal of student politics.

Student politics has entered a new phase due to the dominance of seniors and non-students in positions of power. One can witness the excess of non-students on the committees of student organisations at different universities, which makes newcomers disinterested in student politics. Furthermore, many leaders and staff members of the ruling party's student organisation actively seek financial gain. Almost all student organisations' discontent is based on the process of organising committees at various levels. There is unease among activists because of the tradition of central authorities setting up special committees outside the standard democratic procedure. Appointing agents from other parties to high-level posts inside the organisation only serves to besmirch the party's reputation and the student body, precluding students from participating in student politics.

The ruling party and the opposition student organisation are experiencing the same problem. Several articles in the print media have recently discussed the formation of a central committee for the student wing of an opposition political party. Newspapers also said that the aspirants had to pay exorbitant sums to "purchase" the position. More recent discussions have focused on the operations of the ruling party's student organisation rather than the activities of the opposition party's student organisation. Many people used the organisation as a cover to engage in illegal and immoral activities for their own benefit. They bring shame to the student body and the government with their actions.

The actions of its leaders and workers frequently take one by surprise. Is this the type of situation that Bangabandhu envisioned when he founded this student organisation? Some of the leaders and activists of the ruling party's student wing have stirred up controversy with their actions, even though Honourable Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has been working tirelessly to bring the country to the pinnacle of development and to improve the destiny of the people of the country. The student organisations of the ruling party just elected a new president and general secretary. Citizens hope that the new leadership will restore respect for the organisation Bangabandhu established.

The dominance of student organisations in educational institutions has become a threat to the administration in many cases. Leaders of student organisations are getting involved in seat trading in residential halls. By doing this, just as the real poor meritorious students are deprived of seats in the residential hall, in the same way, the students who are loyal to the organisation have a negative attitude towards the organisation. Even selling hall seats to students of other organisations in exchange for money is making headlines. Due to such incidents, students have started raising questions about the ability of the teachers in charge of the hall to fulfil their duties.     Student leaders are more concerned with safeguarding their own interests than the interests of the students they represent, leading to widespread confusion regarding the true purpose of student politics. Therefore, political parties should make their choice on how to handle student politics at this point. Student politics in Bangladesh can look back on a long and illustrious tradition. Student politics of sovereign Bangladesh must be student-friendly. Instead of using student politics as a weapon, political parties should handle it carefully. By electing capable students to leadership roles on campus, we can restore student politics to its former glory.

Student politics plays a crucial role in strengthening a country's democracy. Students become the leaders of tomorrow by participating in politics at the university level. Since a well-informed leader can shape the future of a nation, it is crucial that student politics be revived in educational institutes. However, student politics' underlying philosophy has shifted throughout time. Leaders are putting their own interests before the common good. If this trend isn't stopped soon, it might severely impact democratic government.

Each political party must do all it takes to allow genuine students to take charge of student politics. Young and brilliant students will lose interest in student politics if married adults and non-students are allowed to participate. The democratic selection of student organisation leadership is so important that political parties should secure it. Talented student leaders who are not in contact with the central leaders of political parties will always be in the back row if the leadership at all levels of the student body is determined by the intervention of the central leaders of political parties. They won't be able to help the party or the country. Student politics risks becoming irrelevant if chaos persists in its name. Therefore, political parties need to make swift and complex judgments on this matter.


The writer is a Professor in the Department of Public Administration at the University of Rajshahi