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    Volume 9 Issue 20| May 14, 2010|

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Current Affairs

Fatal Indifference

When it comes to its student wing, the Awami League's bite is not as tough as its bark

Ahmede Hussain

Last week, the country has again woken up to the phenomenon of gangsterism in campuses. As it has been in the last one and a half years, members of the Chhatra League (BCL), the student wing of the Awami League have hogged the headlines by hacking fellow Chhatra Leaguers with knifes and machetes. The photos that newspapers have carried show a young BCL-man, armed with a knife, chopping another BCL member. It has happened in Barisal Polytechnic Institute last week, but this is not the only instance of marauding BCL goons killing and maiming students at educational institutions.

In fact, it is the same old story that is repeating itself across the country. The newspapers are flooded with the news of BCL members trying to manipulate government tenders, extorting ordinary people or killing rival factions at campuses. To make matters worse, the police and law enforcing agencies have turned a blind eye to the BCL thugs who have paralysed the educational life of hundreds and thousands of students.

A case in point is the incident that happened in downtown Chittagong last month. A BCL faction in Chittagong University called a strike and set fire to some public and private vehicles. When people protested such unruly behaviour, the police, instead of dispersing the BCL thugs, pointed their guns at the ordinary citizens who took to the streets to resist the torching of cars and buses.

The Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has repeatedly ordered the police to take action against the BCL. Six months into her tenure, faced with a string of criticism from the media, Hasina distanced herself from her student wing by resigning from the post of the guardian of the student body. But that hardly dissuaded the BCL from committing heinous acts.

BCL cadres attack each other with machetes at Barisal Polytechnic Institute on May 4.

There are three leaders of the Awami League who are supposed to be looking after the activities of the BCL-- Jahangir Kabir Nanak, BM Mojammel Haque and Ahmed Hossain. In an interview with The Daily Star, Haque said that the leadership of the BCL had been infiltrated by criminals and non-students and the matter needed to be looked after. If it is true, coming from the organising secretary of the ruling party, it is common sense that the government will launch a through investigation into the matter and oust the 'criminals and non-students' from the leadership of its student wing. As nothing has been done to find and punish these elements, there is every reason to believe that the demons Haque has been alluding to do not exist.

The claim that every criminal activity that the BCL is accused of is actually the work of some outsiders or some conspirators who are extorting in the name of BCL is not new. A year ago, after a student was murdered in an intra-BCL feud at Dhaka University, the General Secretary of the AL said that non-BCL elements were behind the bloodshed. Twelve months on, no 'conspirator' has so far been arrested.

The four organisational secretaries of the AL who are authorised to punish the wayward Chhatra Leaguers have also failed to perform their duties. It is indeed unbelievable that they have not even initiated an investigation into the murders that have taken place at different educational institutions. The BCL leadership has suspended some district level committees and expelled some of its members from the party, but these actions have hardly put a leash on the criminal elements of the party as some recent incidents of journalist bashing (at Rajshahi University) and thuggery (at Jahangirnagar University, Chittagong University, Rajshahi University, Rajshahi University of Engineering and Technology, Khulna University of Engineering and Technology and Dhaka College) suggest that criminalisation at a mass level has taken place in the party and drastic actions are needed to save the day.

It has been observed that some district level Awami League leaders and local MPs are giving shelters to the Chhatra League goons. It is time the government realises that it is treading on thin ice. The hooliganism of the BCL has tainted the image of the government and the party, which won the elections riding an electoral landslide only one and a half years ago, is gradually losing ground. During the electioneering, Sheikh Hasina promised to build a digital Bangladesh and her manifesto for change went down well with the electorate, especially with the first time voters. In the run up to the elections Sheikh Hasina had shown brinkmanship to steer her party through troubled waters.

She badly needs to rise up to the occasion again to save the country's student politics from criminals and she has to start the clean-up drive from her own fold. Dissolving the Central Committee of the BCL will not do, her government needs to identify the BCL-members behind the violence in the campuses and bring them before law. Since the restoration of democracy, the student organisations of subsequent government parties have indulged themselves in hooliganism and other criminal activities with impunity, it is time her government sets an example before the others by going after its corrupt and nefarious student leaders.

Sheikh Hasina has promised change, and an opportunity lies before her to bring that about. She can declare a moratorium on student politics for two years in which all the major student bodies can soul search to come up with a set of honest, sincere and dedicated leadership. Electoral law stipulates that none of the political parties should have a political wing. This law has been violated most flagrantly by all the parties; the Awami League being the largest party in the parliament should come forward and sever all ties with the BCL. All the BCL leaders and activists who have committed crimes in the last one and a half years must be arrested and tried. The police need to pursue a zero tolerance policy on campus crimes, and they must be given a free hand when it comes to arresting and trying student-criminals.

There is little doubt that it will be a tough task to take, for the AL and the BCL share a relationship that is as old as the history of the Bengali nation's struggle for freedom. But through their hooliganism, some of the BCL leaders have proven that they have derailed far away from their goal--establishment of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujib's golden Bangla. The BCL needs to be saved from BCL itself and to do that a moratorium on its activities is needed.

The government's performance on campus crime has so far been abysmal. There are reasons to believe that the government is not serious about punishing the BCL goons who have kept the educational lives of millions hostage. The change that Sheikh Hasina had so famously talked about has arrived at her doorstep. She just needs to make up her mind.

Photos: Star

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