The name says it all. Swechchhasebak League was founded in 1994 so that it volunteers during the political programmes of Awami League and stands beside those in need during natural disasters.
But since its inception, Swechchhasebak League, the volunteers’ wing of the AL, hardly acted that way.
Instead, many of its top leaders, especially after the party came to power in 2008, were busy making their own fortune.
The situation, in fact, turned so bad that the AL high-ups had to relieve the organisation’s president, Molla Mohammed Abu Kawsar, of his duties on October 23, just 23 days before the much-awaited Swechchhasebak League council.
Besides, Swechchhasebak League General Secretary Pankaj Devnath, a lawmaker, was asked not to take part in any activity centring the council.
Neither Kawser nor Pankaj was invited to the one-day council to be inaugurated by Prime Minister and AL President Sheikh Hasina at 11:00am today at the capital’s Suhrawardy Udyan.
This is the organisation’s third council where a total of 1,845 councillors from across the country are all set to pick their new leadership.
Swechchhasebak League has around 3 lakh members at central, district, upazila, municipality and union levels, said its sources.
According to its charter, Swechchhasebak League’s new leadership should be elected in every three years through direct voting by the councillors, but this provision remains only on paper.
The previous council took place seven years ago.
Swechchhasebak League was founded in 1994 with Makbul Hossain as convenor and Habibur Rahman Habib as joint convenor. Later Habib joined the BNP and from then on, the activities of the organisation became stagnated.
Swechchhasebak League had its first council in 2003 through which AFM Bahauddin Nasim was elected president while Pankaj Devnath general secretary.
Nine years later, the second council elected Kawser the president and reelected Pankaj to the GS post.
Since Swechchhasebak League came into being, it has been the place for former Chhatra League leaders who would work for the volunteers’ wing to secure different posts of the AL and its youth wing Jubo League, said party sources.
Recently, Swechchhasebak League have come to limelight following Kawser’s removal from the president post after his name surfaced in the ongoing drive against illegal casino business that began on September 18.
According to police documents, Kawser is also the president of Dhaka Wanderers Club, which has been shut down on charges of running an illegal casino.
A day before Kawser was relieved of the post, the National Board of Revenue (NBR) had asked different commercial banks to freeze all his accounts to look into his tax compliance.
On October 24, the AL high-ups directed Pankaj, lawmaker for Barishal-4, not to join any activities centring the Swechchhasebak League council.
Pankaj got into transport business in 2009. He is the chairman of Bihongo Paribahan, a minibus service company. He is also a member of Dhaka Road Transport Owners Association.
The charter of Swechchhasebak League makes it mandatory to complete district councils before its national council, but the leaders could hold council only at 45 out of 78 units in the districts.
According to the organisation insiders, many of its top leaders have indulged in different controversial and illegal activities, including casino business, tender manipulation and establishing supremacy, to make fortune. These have tarnished Swechchhasebak League’s image, they said.
Most of its central committee leaders are either businessmen or contractors. For an example, the organisation’s vice presidents Motiur Rahman, Abdur Razzak, and Organising Secretary Abdul Alim, Dhaka City North unit President Mobasshar Hasan Chowdhury and General Secretary Faridur Rahman Iran, Dhaka City South unit President Debashis Biswas and General Secretary Arifur Rahman are all contractors.
Asked about new leadership, Nirmal Ranjan Guha, convenor of the council preparation committee, told The Daily Star that PM Sheikh Hasina adopted “zero tolerance” policy against corruption, and the new committee would reflect her commitment.
“I hope tested, dedicated and honest leaders would be at the leadership position of Awami Swechchhasebak League.”
About not inviting Kawser and Pankaj, Guha, also a president contender of the wing, said, they did not take any decision in this regard. “We were not asked to invite or not invite them. So we didn’t take any decision on our own.”