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Student Politics


Student Politics gave a new dimension to Bengal politics in the early twentieth century. The revolutionary terrorist movement, swadeshi movement and the non-cooperation movement made student politics institutionalised in the first quarter of the 20th century. But the existence of student politics in the earlier century can in no way be ignored. The young bengal movement was an act of students, though it was essentially an intellectual response to western education. Non-conformism was their hallmark. But the Young Bengal group also addressed social and other issues which later became a part of politics. In early 1870s, surendranath banerjee formed an association of students with an object of infusing nationalist feelings among the Indians. During the same period, ananda mohan bose invited students to join politics, and he held political classes with the students. But the existing political, economic and social conditions and most importantly, disciplinary styles of the institutional authorities, debarred the students from showing interest in politics. Qualifying oneself by some education for a job under the colonial government was the highest ambition of students of all classes until the end of the nineteenth century.

The incentive to student activism from the early 20th century came from the nationalist movement launched by the western educated middle class. Despite their involvement in nationalist politics, the Bengal students did not have an organisation of their own until 1928 when All Bengal Students Association was formed at the Congress initiative with Promode Kumar Ghosal as president and Birendra Nath Das Gupta, a student of Jadavpur (National) Engineering College and editor of the Chhatra, as secretary. The launching ceremony of the organisation was presided over by Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru. subhas chandra bose was present as guest speaker. The constitution of the organisation was modelled on that of the indian national congress. It provided for a central council and a nineteen member working committee. Though not mentioned in its constitution, the All Bengal Students Association was ostensibly the student wing of the Congress.

In the political activities of the 1920s, Muslim students were almost totally absent. Muslim parents and politicians were in favour of keeping their wards away from politics. However, inspired by the Congress sponsored All Bengal Students Association some Muslim intellectuals of Dhaka felt to have a student organisation of their own. So, there was a Muslim student conference at Dhaka on 12 July 1930. Dr muhammad shahidullah of Dhaka University was authorised to form a Muslim student association which was formed in 1932 styled as all bengal muslim students’ association. Its declared aim was not to join political activities. Earlier, Lt Col H Suhrawardy, the Vice Chancellor of Calcutta University, urged upon the Muslim students to eschew politics.

But it was evident that All Bengal Muslim Students' Association was guided by Muslim political leaders. Muslim politicians of various factions had tried to establish their control on the association. Thus the students of Taylor Hostel and Carmichael Hostel expressed their loyalty to two different parties, muslim league and krishak praja party respectively, though they belonged to the same association. The elections of 1937 much intensified the process. mohammed ali jinnah established an all India based student association called All India Muslim Students Federation in 1937. Its Bengal chapter was opened in Kolkata in the same year. Until the elections of 1937 few students were interested in these politically sponsored associations.

But since the elections of 1937 and the expansion of the Muslim League spreading over Bengal under Jinnah, students tended to follow the Muslim League leadership. The houses of the Ispahanis of Kolkata and the Khwajas of Dhaka were instrumental in bringing the student politics under the firm control of the Muslim League. The Bengal chapter of the All India Muslim Students Association was renamed in 1938 as All Bengal Muslim Students League. The reorganised party was headed by Abdul Wasek of Dhaka. Shamsur Rahman of Jessore became its general secretary. This Muslim Students League could draw extensive student support from East Bengal. Its patron was the Nawab of Dhaka. It was the Muslim Students League which had organised the student participation on a large scale in the pakistan movement.

The influence of the Khwaja family on the Muslim Students League eroded after the partition, particularly after Jinnah's pronouncement on the state language issue in 1948. The anti-Khwaja faction of the Muslim League broke away from the All Bengal Muslim Students League, and established East Pakistan Muslim Students League in 1948. This Students League spearheaded the language movement that began in that year. The contribution of students to this national issue is well known and well recognised. Student politics did not, however, subside after the language question was settled. The new post-partition politics created as many students' factions as there were political factions among the national politicians. Every political party or faction tried to float its own students' wing to organise crowds for it. Established in 1952, the East Pakistan Students Union was formed to promote left politics in East Bengal. Students' Force and National Students' Federation were later established to support various factions of the Muslim League and other rightist factions operating before and after the martial law of 1958.

The most crucial, and possibly the most glorious phase of student politics was the period from 1968 to 1971. Under the political setting of the early 1960s, most of the political parties got fragmented into various factions and with them the student parties were also segmented. The sub-division and fragmentation of student organisations made their public image highly dubious.

Then came an epoch-making turn in the history of student politics from 1966. The six-point programme launched by Bangabandhu sheikh mujibur rahman and his subsequent imprisonment and implication in the agartala conspiracy case helped students' organisations forge an unprecedented unity among themselves in support of six-point and demand for release of Sheikh Mujib from jail. To realise their goal, all student organisations formed a common platform called sarbadaliya chhatra sangram parishad (All Parties Students Resistance Council) in January 1969, and presented an eleven point charter of demands embodying in it both nationalist and socialist ideals. Initially the Parishad supported the Six-point movement, but later the student leadership developed the idea of making Bangladesh an independent country on the basis of Bangali nationalism. In its nationalist sense, the term Bangladesh was coined by the Parishad leadership. They also coined the nationalist slogan, Jai Bangla and all the associated nationalist slogans and symbols.

The mass upsurge of 1969 which forced mohammad ayub khan to withdraw the Agartala Conspiracy Case and release Sheikh Mujibur Rahman unconditionally, was primarily mobilised by the Sarbadaliya Chhatra Sangram Parishad which in fact emerged as the major political force in the country. On his release from jail, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman recognised their influence by publicly accepting the honour of the title of 'Bangabandhu' from the Chhatra Sangram Parishad.

Student politics for the first time in its history acquired an independent status and possessed independent political thought to pursue. After 1 March 1971, Parishad went ahead with the implementation of its nationalist thought, Bangali nationalism and Bangladesh nationhood. They raised Bangladesh flag on 2 March 1971. Next day they held a mammoth public gathering at Paltan Maidan and proclaimed independence and declared Sheikh Mujibur Rahman the Father of the Nation. At the same meeting was also adopted the national song 'Amar Sonar Bangla'. Since then their programme was to prepare the people for a war of liberation. Their aspirations found expression in the seventh march address of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman.

Under the banner of the Six point politics, the Parishad had organised the non-cooperation movement from March 2. The public support to the nationalist movement of students was so massive and Bangabandhu's image was so pervasive that a symbiotic relationship developed between the Six-point and nationalist politics.

The military crackdown of 25 March 1971 at midnight gave an instant and automatic validation to the declaration of independence made by the students on 3 March 1971. It must be noted that mujibnagar government duly recognised the nationalist prose and idioms of the Chhatra Sangram Parishad.

The astounding performance of student organisations during the war of liberation is universally recognised and well documented. That the students emerged as an independent political force is well attested by the role of students during the early post liberation period. Students could not agree with all the policy measures of the post liberation government. The opposition of a section of students to the government took the shape of forming a new student organisation called Jatiya Samajtantrik Chhatra Dal.

Though the students again showed their unity and might in the struggle against the regime of hussein mohammad ershad and contributed to his eventual ouster in 1991, the image of student politics since then began to erode fast. Various factors may be attributed to it. The foremost cause is the loss of independence of student politics. Increasingly student organisations were becoming subservient to various political parties to which they had their affiliations. Affiliation degenerated into a patron client relationship. In order to establish their control over student fronts, the major political parties and their factions began to enlist even non-students into the leadership of student organisations. The non-student leaders of various student organisations were used in intra and inter party political rivalries in which, more often than not, even firearms were used. Political murders for eliminating the rival groups and other crimes committed by the armed cadres of various student parties contributed to the rapid fall of the image of student politics in the public estimation. Consequently, a public sentiment is now growing in favour of abolishing student politics altogether. [Mohammad Hannan]