Police in Bangladeshi capital Dhaka conduct a raid on an illegal casino on Sept. 22. (Photo by Fahim Monaem)
Bangladesh’s ruling Awami League (AL) party of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has launched an unprecedented crackdown on rogue and crime-ridden leaders of its associate student and youth fronts.
It started after Hasina, during a top-level party meeting on Sept. 7, reportedly expressed frustration over intelligence that showed the alleged involvement of senior leaders in illegal activities and crimes including extortion and corruption.
Analysts believe the crackdown is aimed at improving the AL’s faltering pubic image.
On Sept. 14, Rezwanul Haque Chowhdury Shovon and Golam Rabbani, respectively president and secretary of Bangladesh Chhatra League (BCL), the student front of the AL, tendered their resignations to Hasina.
The pair were criticized by senior AL leaders after media reports exposed their involvement in an extortion scam from a development project of state-run Jahangirnagar University in Dhaka that triggered massive student protests.
Media reports also alleged that Shovon and Rabbani were involved in controversial activities such as selling posts in local units of the organization for large sums and extracting “commissions” from government tender bidders.
On Sept. 18, police started a crackdown on illegal casinos, most of them run by leaders of the Jubo League, the youth wing of the AL, in capital Dhaka and Chittagong, a port city in the southeast.
In addition to shutting down outlawed casinos that operated under the noses of the administration and police for years with tacit political backing, several Jubo League leaders were arrested, put into jail and charged with multiple offenses.
They were accused of occupying several popular sports clubs in Dhaka including Young Men’s Fakirerpool and Dhaka Wanderers, which were later turned into illegal entertainment facilities providing unauthorized gambling, bars and vulgar dancing.
Father Anthony Sen, a member of the Catholic bishops’ Justice and Peace Commission, said the so-called “weed clearing” is a political gambit to earn public trust for the AL.
“This party has been in power since 2008 and there is no effective opposition, yet there is a lack of confidence within the party and its image among people is tarnished because of rampant corruption, scams and crimes by party leaders and activists. These are calculated political moves for an eyewash to establish a clean image for the party,” Father Sen told ucanews.com.
The priest said those arrested should face punishment and their backers for years should also be held responsible.
“I am afraid that the purge will be short-lived and the leaders netted won’t face punishment. Those arrested now have been doing illegal businesses for years by managing relevant authorities, and they could use their political and financial connections to get released,” Father Sen added.
Despite being in power for more than a decade, the AL-led government has been gripped by a sense of unease, according to an associate professor of political science from Chittagong University who asked not to be named.
“The AL came to power through a fair election in 2008, but the following two elections in 2014 and 2018 were controversial, one-sided and rigged,” he told ucanews.com.
“There is a latent grievance in people’s minds about the elections, which has been further fueled by a series of irregularities and mismanagement involving politicians and government officials. The party is trying to send a message to people that it is against various forms of social sickness including drugs, terrorism and gambling.
“People welcome and appreciate such moves because they believe the government is imparting good governance and it also gives the party a strong hand in maintaining organizational stability.”