Dhaka Courier

Can politics in public Universities be banned?


Many are interested in banning student politics in Universities at this point in time. Anyone supporting student politics is seen as allies of the BUET killers. Such has been the public reaction to the killing that they have all been judged guilty and sentenced to death in the court of public opinion. Student politics has never been as unpopular as it is now.

Yet there was a time when student politics and its practitioners were not just heroes but looked upon a saviors of society, During the 1969 to 1971 phase, people would even crowd  the then Iqbal Hall and (now  Zahrul Haq hall)  looking for protection and  support. Had anyone suggested banning student politics then, the person would have been lynched. Since then much water has flown through the half dry rivers of our governance and political system. Today student politics has become synonymous with the BUET killers and other such people.

What is student politics today?

Whatever it may have meant before 1971, what it means today is exertion of force by students backed by ruling parties.  It means everything from extortion and brutal beatings to opponents and protesters, extortion, tender rackets etc., to many other criminal activities.  In fact, it’s very safe to be a proto-criminal and a student activist simultaneously because the protection that comes is institutional and official so safety is guaranteed. But why are such people needed by political parties as student activists?

The problem lies with the nature of politics that operates in the country. It’s basically based on physical control of institutions, very similar to the way land grabbing used to happen – maybe still- in different areas but largely in the deltaic zone when new agricultural land arises.  The lathial of the zamindar/jotedar is the close approximation of the role of the activists today, whether student or youth. It’s not a matter of questioning if they exert pressure or not but how much pressure they can exert.

Such Activists are basically dealers in force and if they are not good at it then they can’t remain as one. A peaceful law abiding student activist is a contradiction in terms when politics itself is based on force. Overt or covert.  Hence the two can never be separated given the system we have.

University as a breeder of force based politics

Public universities are funded by the people and those who study here are the future governing elite. A student has to choose between two options. A student can either become a BCS cadre who in this scenario also means being pro-government or a political cadre who is immediately pushed into force practicing. What most students activists do is that and it’s their main task. Otherwise they are of no value to the party. The scenes from the anti-quota movement, safe road movements and other movements showed how physical force needs to be applied against anti-government protesters. It works no one even apologized not to mention rebuke.

None of these movements had any negotiation or discussion space but political activists immediately went on the physical offensive. The scene of the helmeted lathials bearing up protesters along with the police or the protesters being bashed by hammer wielders was portrayed as depiction of political strength. So having endorsed violence as a political tool it’s difficult to return back to another form of politicking. It’s also not very tempting to be peaceful since bashing up works so well. So when we are saying “ban student politics” we are saying change the nature of politics as it exists in Bangladesh today. Can that be a serious proposal?

Objectives of public universities

If student politics is banned, the political system as it exists now will face huge pressure. But before it reaches the national space, the Universities will be affected and the system through which they operate will be under threat too.

Public universities are not education institutions dominantly but political activist manufacturing units where different parties operate. Political circles openly state “whoever controls DUCSU controls BD politics.” Given the history of DU and DUCSU the merit of this argument is obvious. Under that scenario, the purpose of the public universities is obvious and so keeping them going without student politics of the physical force application variety is meaningless.

 An alliance between the University administration and the student activists is critical which is why the united objective of both academia and activists is the same. So when one demands the end of student politics, one is asking for an institution whose prime objective is to provide national political support and sustenance not education. Given that, asking for a ban means the death of the other which is why asking for the end of student politics means seeking the death of public universities.

One is therefore certain that public universities, student politics, national politics and application of force when needed are part of the same system. They can’t be allowed to be hampered and that is why all will remain the same. It can’t be banned.

  • Can politics in public Universities be banned?
  • Vol 36
  • Issue 15
  • Afsan Chowdhury
  • DhakaCourier

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