Leaders of the student wing of the ruling party, who were once the heart of the quota reform movement, seem to have dissociated themselves from it
Despite initially collaborating with quota reform activists when the movement began, leaders and activists of Bangladesh Chhatra League now seem to have retreated from their previous stance on the issue – choosing instead to stand against the reformists.
Insiders say this change in stance is mostly to show obedience to the ruling party, especially when the new central committee of Chhatra League is due to be announced soon.
When students of public universities and job seekers launched the movement in Shahbagh, Dhaka earlier this year, to demand a reform to the existing quota system in government jobs, many Chhatra League leaders played significant roles in mobilizing the protesters.
The protesters termed the existing quota system discriminatory and 56% of jobs in public service are secured under different quotas.
The movement gradually intensified and spread across the country. In the face of the protests, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina on April 11 declared in parliament that the quota system would be abolished.
Almost three months later, the quota reform activists are now saying that Chhatra League has turned their backs on the movement.
Since June 30, leaders and activists of Chhatra League have foiled a number of scheduled programs by the quota reform activists. On June 30, they physically assaulted several quota reform leaders and activists ahead of a scheduled press conference in Dhaka.
In the last few days, Chhatra League members beat up quota reform activists across the country, injuring at least 30. They even helped police arrest the movement’s Joint Convener Md Rashed Khan, along with three other leaders – Faruk Hasan, Toriqul Islam and Jasim Uddin.
The quota reform activists have also alleged that Chhatra League men have been threatening them with more violence until they retreated from the streets and refrained from holding any demonstration against the government.
However, the central leaders of the student organization are claiming that none of their members had been involved in the assault of the quota reform activists and supporters. They said the clashes had occurred due to an internal dispute among quota reformists over leadership.
“We have spoken with the prime minister, who has already made an announcement in parliament in this regard,” said Chhatra League General Secretary SM Jakir Hossain. “The general students have faith in the prime minister’s promise, but there is a section which is trying to create problems to serve their own interests. There’s a dispute within the platform over leadership.”
Is loyalty to Awami League holding Chhatra League back?
“When we launched our non-violent movement demanding reform to the quota system, many Chhatra League leaders and activists were actively involved in it,” said Hasan Al Mamun, convener of Bangladesh General Students’ Rights Protection Council.
“The senior leaders could not take part in our movement, but many mid-level and junior leaders and activists took part in it,” he told the Dhaka Tribune.
What happened, then, that made the Chhatra League leaders make an about-turn?
Quota reform activists claim that the Chhatra League members have retreated and dissociated themselves from the movement out of their obligation towards the Awami League.
Sources in the student organization said the ruling party was not keen on facing adverse reactions from different communities due to the reformation or abolishment of quotas in the election year.
Because of the Awami League’s sentiment regarding the movement, Chhatra League has now taken stance against the movement, said a central leader of the student organization, requesting anonymity.
However, Chhatra League General Secretary Jakir claimed that they had not separated themselves from the movement.
“A committee has been formed to evaluate the existing quota system. We ask general students to keep patience,” Jakir said.
New Chhatra League committee facing acid test
Sources in Chhatra League said since the new executive committee of the organization is scheduled to be announced soon, leaders and activists are trying their best to neutralize the quota reform movement.
They are now focused on putting up a united front and show their obedience towards the Awami League, attempting to quash the movement in the process.
Examining the reports and the images of the clashes that surfaced in the last few days, the Dhaka Tribune found that the attackers who assaulted quota reform activists appear to be the recently expired Chhatra League central committee’s joint secretary, deputy school and student affairs secretary, publicity secretary, and deputy Liberation War and research affairs secretary, as well as Chhatra League Dhaka University (DU) unit Muktijoddha Shontan Command general secretary, recently expired DU unit vice-president, DU Mohsin Hall unit general secretary, and DU Bangabandhu Hall unit general secretary.
The Dhaka Tribune also obtained a copy of the candidate list of the new committee, which shows each of these attackers has collected nomination form for the new committee.
“This is a crucial time for these Chhatra League leaders, and no one wants to be an eyesore in front of the high command of the Awami League by being involved in the quota reform movement,” a Chhatra League leader said on condition of anonymity.
Another Chhatra League leader said some enthusiastic leaders are trying to prove their worth by attempting to foil the quota reform movement.
“They are showing muscle power to prove that everything is under their control. But they are not doing the organization any favour,” he added.