<%-- Page Title--%> Perspective <%-- End Page Title--%>

<%-- Volume Number --%> Vol 1 Num 113 <%-- End Volume Number --%>

July 11, 2003

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Are we ready to Speak out?

Shumu Haque

Throughout the history of Bengal for the last century, students have always played a very significant role in major political turning points. Whether it is the movement against the British imperialists, or the movement for our language, or for independence and later, the fight against dictatorship, it has always been the students who have been working at the forefront. It is therefore quite disappointing to find that the average students' opinions about politics is becoming increasingly pessimistic as they are going through a process of alienation with the principle political forces.
Our experience from the last two decades of students' politics is so bitter that the question has even been raised whether or not students' politics should be banned altogether. Yet that can hardly be a healthy situation in a country that needs its young population to be politically conscious for any significant progress.

In the last twenty years of our fragile democracy, students politics has only been used in order to strengthen and secure the position of the ruling political parties. No matter which party we are talking of they are all equally responsible for using and abusing the retentive power of the student population in order to serve their self-interest. In spite of their so-called differences, all the major political parties in Bangladesh have introduced the practice of corruption and indecent competition of arms and violence among student groups. The promising young politicians who were once our main strength in the struggle against oppression have now become mere puppets dancing to the tune of political parties, not driven by the ideals which they proclaim as their political motivation.
The fact that there is an ever increasing distrust about politics and political parties among the common people and the students is a result of this evil power-game. Ordinary people either fear, or hate or at the best, avoid politics altogether.
Long lost are the days when the most brilliant, brightest students used to be the ones who were the most enthusiastic about politics. Today, without a few exceptions, the bright and brilliant students usually tend to avoid politics, like the plague. Nor does the average student indulge in student politics for the sake of his/her ideals. A political career guarantees financial solvency, power, or at least, a seat in the University's Halls!
Yet there are many bright, sincere individuals in the student community who are sincere in their ideology, in their love for their country and interest in national issues. They want to speak out, they want to raise questions. They just don't know where or how to voice them.

Political parties are growing farther apart from the potential student community as they have been from the ordinary people. Even the radical leftist political parties are not much different than the major parties. Although the centre of their political ideas are the ordinary people, they are even farther from them than their major counterparts.
A member of the Bangladesh Chhatra Union, who wished to remain anonymous, says “Unlike the major parties, we don't have the power of money or media to influence the common people, all we have is the convincing power of our activists. The truth is we are not being able to organise ourselves so that we can reach the masses. The goal of our movement is to work for the common people and ironically, we have miserably failed to reach them. If you look at it, most of the people in the grassroots level don't even know who we are and what we are doing here. It is completely our failure”.
Another active worker and member of Bangladesh Chhatra Union. Partha Pratim Sadhu agrees with him, but adds, “We should not forget that the failure is of the political parties, not of our ideals. We have made the mistake of isolating ourselves from the common people and we have to do something about it. I think that a natural third platform can be very helpful, where we, the political activists can openly interact with the general students and the common people. We both need to listen to each after. So far the opposition parties have been questioning and criticising the government's actions. It is now absolutely necessary to question and criticise the other parties. Only constructive criticism and interaction with the common people can help us get out of this alienated state.'
An activist of a leading opposition party (who also wishes to remain anonymous) shares an experience. They were planning to organise a movement with the rickshaw-pullers after the government's decision to gradually abolish rickshaws from the streets of the city. When they went to them with their proposal to help on behalf of the party, the rickshaw-pullers refused to work with them. When asked the reason, one of the rickshaw-pullers replied. 'Because we have been betrayed so many times that we don't trust politicians anymore. 'Finally, the same party sent some students without revealing their political identity and the rickshaw-pullers agreed to work with them.
Such lack of trust and skepticism about politics and political parties is the norm these days. Adding to this distrust is the major political parties' tendency to take over non-political movements organised by ordinary students and then take the credit for it. Says a third year Economics student of DU who was one of the organisers during the general students' movement concerning the Shamsunnahar Hall incident, “It is always the same story. The general students and the leftist parties organise the movements and at the end it is either BNP or AL who get all the credit. The same thing happened during the movement to protect the trees on the campus”.
Many students have valuable insight on national issues, but no one would listen to them because they refuse to go with the trend of the bi-polar campus politics. Many students have expressed their interest to actively participate in national issues. But almost everyone is reluctant to join any political parties. Some of them have proposed a campaign group or pressure group that will be able to work without the influence of any particular party. While at the same time, political activists like Partha Pratim and his colleagues are thinking about a third platform outside the party where they can come closer to the ordinary students.
The reality of our contemporary politics is leading both of the groups to an idea of open interaction. A chance to start all over again. The level of consciousness among general students and the common people is far more remarkable than the political parties and the leaders would like to admit.
A wave of awakening has come around. If the ones at the helm of power do not intend to work for the greater interest of the people they will be the ultimate losers. History has proven that when the masses awake, they can change the world.
For many students at DU the idea of a neutral platform, is becoming increasingly attractive. It is the only hope that someday student politics will not be about who gets the tender or which party captures a hall but about real issues that concern the welfare of the students and the ordinary citizens of this country.


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