Poor Shovan and Rabbani. Althogh they have done nothing which others haven’t done before and is doing now, they were unceremoniously booted out from Chatra League leadership. This has rarely happened in the history of the student organization, often the most important maker of political history in Bangladesh.
Yet over the years, it has become known for other activities including unsavoury ones like extortion, violence and breaking the law at will. This was possible of course because they in turn were protected by those more powerful than them. So once that sheltering umbrella was withdrawn, they became vulnerable and so their removal. But given the nature of politics that exists in the country, this was inevitable. They also overestimated their own clout.
Managing the DU by CL
Once, Governments were anxious about the DU campus as a source of rebellion but that is no longer the case. The DU is quiet and docile and all Opposition groups have been neutralized. In achieving this position, Chatra League has played a major part.
Resistance to the status quo has come from activist non-partisan students. It happened most visibly during the anti- quota movement which captured public imagination. That raised the status of such activists. But the extreme counter measures including beating them up in full public view was undertaken by ruling party activists who therefore claimed some status as restorer of control over DU through use of muscles.
The result was that CL activists did what they more or less wished as authorities turned a blind eye to them. The DU VC was generally seen as dependent on the CL for running the campus. His no longer represents a force of respect and authority as any VC must. In many ways, it’s the CL who represents authority in the DU.
Cut money crisis
Such a situation and circumstances obviously made CL feel invulnerable and taking cuts from projects and contracts, much of which has been on for the last 50 years was natural as cut money is universal in any project. The considered themselves above the law. Its leaders thought that it’s CL which mattered and not VCs. So when they asked for cuts in JU and the VC took the matter to the PM or whatever, the actions that followed shocked them.
Central CL demanded money from the VC which neither has denied. CL has claimed that the JU VC had paid JU Chatra League 1.6 crores not them. So central CL demanded their share which given common practice is common. The JU VC claimed that she was verbally abused and threatened as she had not paid any money.
Shovon- Rabbani hit back saying the VC’s family was involved in kickbacks and obviously hinting that a syndicate of corruption was on. But it was not just the VC’s denial that was problematic but the entire process of cut money system involving the ruling party supporters was exposed. The bickering showed how public university development project funds are siphoned off. The timing was bad as an agitation against the project was on in JU.
Inner party bickering over money
That was politically embarrassing because the movement was also led by non-partisans and was focused on a specific issue and not regime change. The cut money allegations confirmed what the agitators were saying.
The deeper distress which made the duo’s chop inevitable was the fact that the matter which should have stayed inside the party camp had gone outside into the public space. Internal feuding within the ruling party is no secret. But when such groups fight each other publicly, it shows that behind the façade of unity there is the reality of factions and it might encourage other factions to copy the trend. It was obviously not a few crores that make any difference but that members of CL and VCs were ready to fight each other publicly over it. If allowed to continue, they may even make some people think the PM is not handling matters very strictly. Whereupon the PM did act proving she can.
Non-academics as VC?
The damage inflicted by the DU VC by acting subserviently to the Chatra League had largely destroyed the gravitas a VC’s chair should have. To this has been added the name of the JU VC who has been accused by ruling party cadres not political enemies that she/her family is on the take. It’s an usual situation and while no actions will probably be taken against anyone, the damage is done. Her appointment will now be considered a dubious decision. She has become a liability.
The fact that phone call recordings are being released to media means security agencies may have entered the scene so the affair is serious enough to merit upper layer attention. So axes may fall. For all practical purposes, the VC is seen as a ruling party apparatchik. This is fine as most other VCs are also like that. But the failure by the JU VC to manage CL will be seen a s a disability.
Managing public Universities is no longer the task of academics as they are no longer academic institutions anyway. Clearly Professors have no savvy to run Universities. Taken over by various power groups the case for having politicians or amlas or military personnel appointed as VCs may be preempted now.