Written jointly with Moinul Hoque Chowdhury on Apr 12 on bdnews24.com

Logo of Bangladesh Students' League

A delegation of the ruling Awami League has denied that the party is contravening the law through involvement in activities of its former student wing, the Bangladesh Chhatra League, in reply to queries by the Election Commission.

The delegation, comprising deputy office secretary Mrinal Kanti Sen, working committee member Aminul Islam and member of the election managing committee Reazul Kabir Kawser, met the chief election commissioner on Monday following a letter asking for clarification on the present relationship between the party and the student body.

Mrinal, after the meeting, told reporters that they came to answer the letter. The senior party members told the EC the Chhatra League is operating independently.

The EC’s letter, issued on Mar 18, asked for clarification regarding newspaper reports that three party leaders were deployed to “look after” the activities of BCL, in violation of the Representation of the People Order and the AL’s constitution.

Awami League leaders, including the prime minister, and the AL general secretary have also been regularly issuing policy directives and making statements meant for their different ‘associate organisations’ although the party claims “no involvement” with them in line with EC requirements and the law.

Prime minister Sheikh Hasina on Apr 3 reportedly said in Sylhet that the Awami League wanted to see “genuine students become members of the Bangladesh Chhatra League”.

Last week, Syed Ashraful Islam, the AL general secretary and ruling party spokesperson, as well as a member of Hasina’s cabinet, warned unruly cadres of Awami League’s associated student and youth bodies of “dire consequences” for extortion and tender manipulation.

Referring to recently reported untoward incidents involving the Juba League and Chhatra League’s factional fights, Ashraf said that “hooliganism in the name of student politics will not be tolerated”.

On Feb 9 this year, Ashraf, according to media reports, cautioned his party men saying that Islami Chhatra Shibir members had “infiltrated the top ranks of the pro-ruling party Bangladesh Chhatra League”.

QUESTION OF ‘ASSOCIATES’

A question also lingers over the ruling party’s constitution with regard to “associate organisations”.

According to RPO, amended ahead of the last general election in 2008, a party must have several specific provisions in its constitution in order to secure registration of the Election Commission.

The law, under article 90B, clause b3, states that every party must “prohibit formation of any organisation or body as its affiliated or associated body consisting of the teachers or students of any educational institution or the employees or labourers of any financial, commercial or industrial institution or establishment or the members of any other profession”.

The ruling Awami League in its written reply to the EC’s queries has stated: “The Awami League has been conducting party activities in line with Section 25 (1) of the party constitution.”

That section of Awami League’s constitution, according to Awami League’s website on Monday, stated that the “Bangladesh Awami League Executive Committee shall decide the policies of Associate Organizations of the Bangladesh Awami League”.

The section goes on to mention the names of ‘associate organisations,’ which include professional and students bodies — for instance Bangladesh Krishak League, Jatiyo Sramik League, Bangladesh Chhatra League, Awami Ainjibee Parishad, and Swadhinata Chikitshak Parishad.

However, this part of the party’s constitution has since been amended on the EC’s suggestion, adding that the associate organisations will have “independent constitutions”

Despite the still apparent inconsistencies between the party constitution and the RPO, the EC has accepted the AL’s amended and ratified constitution.

EC EYE ON ‘STUDENT WINGS’ SPARKS GRIEVANCES

Meanwhile, leaders of three major parties have claimed that the Election Commission is “exercising unwanted authority” on party activities, while the commission says that it is only working to assist parties to comply with the law.

Grievances surfaced among the leaders as the commission sent its letters last month seeking explanations from the three parties regarding their involvement with their respective “student wings”.

The commission issued letters to opposition parties BNP and Jamaat-e-Islami, as well as ruling Awami League, asking them to clarify their stand on their student organisations, which parties have been required to “disassociate”.

Senior Awami League leader Suranjit Sen Gupta, asked by bdnews24.com what view the ruling party had of the matter, said on Mar 27, “There should be an explanation regarding the limit of the Election Commission’s powers.”

“The letter issued by the Election Commission should be sent back. Who has assigned them to talk about party affairs?” Salauddin Quader Chowdhury, a senior figure of the opposition BNP, said in a recent TV interview.

Also criticising the EC’s queries over student associations, Jamaat-e-Islami assistant secretary general, M Kamaruzzaman, told bdnews24.com, “It’s too much on the part of EC. It is showing unwanted authority.”