What do you call those who just refuse to see the writing on the wall? Delusional fools or compulsive optimists? Perhaps we are a bit of both. Thus, despite all the unsavoury antecedents of the Ducsu election—allegations of students being threatened if they didn't vote for Chhatra League, telltale preconditions of voting, and the obvious dominance of the ruling party's student wing in the halls—there was still a glimmer of hope.
Maybe that's our strongest feature as Bengalis—to hope in the midst of the most formidable odds. Then again, it could also be our weakest point—to delude ourselves that no matter how obviously adverse the conditions, things will miraculously get better. Perhaps it's time to stop believing in miracles and accept reality.
It seemed like a well-rehearsed play being enacted all over again. After the mindboggling national election, the tepid mayoral election, and the almost invisible upazila election, why we would expect anything different from the Ducsu election is also something to ponder about. So what if it was taking place after 28 years? So what if the opposing sides shared tea and shingara in the historic Madhur Canteen, the seat of many a glorious student movement? So what if the general students were enthusiastic and their candidates confident that the election would be held in a fair manner?
What happened during and after this Ducsu election is just a reflection of how a university with such a glorious past in terms of political movements and academic excellence has been degraded by petty politicisation (read opportunistic sycophancy), eating away both ideology and intellectual freedom. This has happened over decades as the country transitioned from military dictatorships to democratic rule under one of the two major parties. The practice of “hall control” by student cadres and teachers pledging allegiance to white or blue panels—even the highest administrative positions being political appointments—has deeply become embedded in the university culture. On a campus where non-political students are terrorised and often forced to join student wings of political parties, just to be able to attend class, and where they are physically assaulted and sexually harassed by political cadres without even a whimper from the university authorities, the pursuit of knowledge becomes a mere ritual to somehow get a certificate without the inconvenience of getting maimed or killed.
Is this what this iconic institution was supposed to have looked like in this century?
Undeniably, historically, the Ducsu election is much more than electing a student body in a public university. By tradition, Ducsu elections have always had a political tint, producing future leaders of the country—Matia Chowdhury, Rashed K Menon, Tofail Ahmed, to name a few. Most major political movements such as the Language Movement, education movement of the early '60s, anti-martial law movement of the late '60s, 1969's mass uprising and the fall of Ershad's military regime originated from Ducsu. It is assumed that the panel that could form a student governing body would also have a significant role to play in the country's politics.
After 28 years and being in an independent country, the political ramifications of the Ducsu election do not reflect the nationalistic goals of the '60s; rather it is an exercise for the students to get a taste of a democratic process within the institution. Chhatra League, moreover, seems to have forgotten that all the other Ducsu elections were contested on a level playing field, not through underhanded, juvenile tactics of flexing muscles or fake voting. Thus, in one final stroke, the dreams of thousands of students, many of them freshers, were crushed to the ground.
Chhatra League's apparent rage at Nurul Haque Nur being elected VP despite all the “preparations” taken to ensure complete victory was another jarring note in the aftermath of the election. Though they won 23 out of the 25 seats, it just wasn't enough.
While a boycott of classes and exams was announced and then suddenly withdrawn by the VP-elect, the leftist panel with Liton Nandi as the VP candidate has threatened tougher movement if the administration does not announce re-polls, something the DU authorities said would just not be possible.
Instead of giving the students a representative body that will make their university experience better, the Ducsu election has only resulted in disappointment and more uncertainty. With an administration that has turned tone deaf to the protests and demands of the general students and the prospect of even more intimidation and bullying in the future with total impunity, there is little scope for even deluded optimism.
The tragedy of crushing the spirit of young people cannot be emphasised enough. Whether it was to punish them for daring to demand reform in an archaic, illogical quota system or for roads where buses would not crush them on their way to school, clamping down on their right to protest and their right to elect the student body of their choice does not bode well for this country's growth. A nation will only regress into intellectual and moral bankruptcy if it continues to choke the voices of its young people. And the outcome of the Ducsu election has echoed this harsh, unpalatable truth.
Aasha Mehreen Amin is Senior Deputy Editor, Editorial and Opinion, The Daily Star. An early version of this article was published on the paper's website on March 12, 2019 under the title "Ducsu election: Are we fools or optimists?".