Hundreds of organisations have mushroomed across the country over the last decade, claiming to be adherents of the ruling party Awami League's ideology.
None of these organisations have official status as AL affiliates, but they nevertheless use names that appear Awami League-ish, giving them a veil of legitimacy. Individual party leaders are often seen attending events organised by such groups, but they do not have official party sanction.
The naming conventions of these mushrooms are as follows: Awami is added in front of a term identifying a trade or interest group or an age bracket and League is added to the end, for example Awami Motor Chalok (motor drivers) League.
Alternatively any of the names or titles of Father of the Nation Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman or his family members is used with the term league or another word denoting a collective, for example Bongomata Sheikh Fazilatunnesa Mujib Parishad.
The groups have various goals but those can hardly be said to be aligned to the party's ideology.
One of the main purposes of such groups appears to be raising political capital by collecting large numbers of young men under one banner. Awami Nobin League, founded in 2010, appears to be one such organisation.
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Banner of an unaffiliated/fake Awami organisation Syed Zakir Hossain/Dhaka Tribune
The founder, a Lutfur Rahman Sweet who claims to be the head of a non-existent United States branch of Awami League, has collected a vast following of young men across the country and among expat Bangladeshis around the world. Last November in Kishoreganj, local Awami League leaders got into fights over forming a committee of this organisation.
Politicians say groups such as these gain bargaining power with local MPs and other elected officials as they grow in size and use that influence for personal benefits.
Racketeering is another reason why people form such groups. The name "League" often provides immunity from law, said one politician, and some groups use the resultant power to peddle influence, get government contracts, jobs, extort money, grab property, deal drugs and do many other crimes.
The core people in the group exploit their connections with ruling party leaders to the fullest extent, using their members as collateral.
In March, Awami League General Secretary Obaidul Quader railed against these groups at a rally of grassroots activists of Sylhet.
“The organisation has been infiltrated by kauwa [crows],” he said. “There's Prochar League, Tarun League, Kormojibi League, Digital League, Hybrid League – all these upstarts will have to go,” he declared.
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Another fake Awami Organisation, called Joy Bangla Muktijoddha Parishad Syed Zakir Hossain/Dhaka Tribune
Oabidul called Olama League a shop and said it must be shut down. The Islamist group claims to be a pro-AL organisation, but takes far right positions on many issues.
However, despite his warning, senior party leaders continue to show up at the events of these kauwa parties.
Political Analyst Dr Abdul Mannan, also the chairman of the University Grants Commission, said it was a long-standing political tradition in Bangladesh that a ruling political party's name will be used by various groups in self-interest.
Awami League under its constitution officially recognises only 11 affiliates or like-minded organisations and bars anyone else from using the party’s identity.
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These 11 are Bangladesh Mohila Awami League, Krishak League, Chhatra League, Jubo League, Awami Swechchhasebok League, Awami Ainjibi Parishad, Swadhinata Chikitsok Parishad, Mohila Sramik League, Jatiya Sramik League, Tanti League and Jubo Mohila League.
Other organisations can become affiliates by applying, although that has not happened in years.
Any organisation wanting to conduct activities with the name of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman or his family members has to take permission from the independent body Jatir Janak Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman Memorial Trust.
Among all the unauthorised organisations, Bangabandhu Sangskritik Jote commands some claim to authenticity, General Secretary Arun Sarkar Rana tells the Dhaka Tribune.
The cultural group founded in 1978 played an important role in political campaigning when the AL was in opposition, he said.
“We are not a kauwa party that mushroomed after 2008 when Awami League came to power. Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and many top leaders of Awami League have participated in our programmes many times,” he said.
Arun claimed having obtained permission from the authorities concerned for the organisation. When asked about the date of taking permission, he said their organisation was founded before Jatir Janak Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman Memorial Trust’s establishment.
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Fake Awami organisations set up shops at Bangabndhu Avenue in Dhaka like mushrooms Syed Zakir Hossain/Dhaka Tribune
Mohammad Miji, president of Nouka Somorthok Goshthi, told the Dhaka Tribune that he was ill and unable to talk.
When pushed, he claimed his group had permission from the AL for their organisation but then he dropped the call and would not pick up again.
Swadhinota Parishad President Fazlur Rahman over mobile phone said: “We are activists of the AL. We work for the party. Many top leaders come in our organisation office on different national and political occasions. So how can we be kauwa?”
However, Awami League headquarters sources told the Dhaka Tribune that no permission had been given to these three organisations.
Expressing exasperation with such groups, Awami League presidium member Lt Col (retd) Faruk Khan told the Dhaka Tribune: “The organisations who profess to our political ideology must have permission from the government as well as the Awami League.
“Our leaders are now very careful in attending the events of such organisations which are trying to advance their self-interests using our face value.”