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KCLSU & Societies

KCL Bangladesh Society Implodes Over Nasty Committee Elections

Tensions in the KCL Bangladesh Society reached a boiling point during student group elections. There was an ugly campaign for top committee positions, mired in allegations of bullying, vote rigging and personal attacks.

Much of the animosity has been directed towards the society’s President, Anusha Taludker. Ahead of this year’s student group elections, she implemented new requirements to run for key positions on the committee. The new rule stated that candidates for her role must have occupied a “core committee” position for the past year. This drew accusations that she was rigging the election in her favour. Taludker herself did not occupy a core committee role before being elected President last year.

Screenshots of the society’s group chat provided by an anonymous source show the heated reaction from members, especially those intending to run for committee positions. Farhan Ali, whose nomination for Treasurer was rejected by the KCLSU, typed “the rules were made so that Anusha [Taludker] can be President again”.

Zahir Ali, a candidate for Vice President, said to Roar “I believe this was done in an attempt to close the pool of potential applicants and gatekeep roles so that the President could be re-elected with no competition”. Farhan noted that these rules were not widely publicised to society members. He also said he reached out to people on the committee who said that Talukder had not discussed the changes with them before sending them to the KCLSU for approval. Neha Ahmed, the society’s Social Media Officer, said that Taludker did not inform her of the changes beforehand.

Taludker’s supporters maintain that it is her right as President to make election rule changes and dispute the notion that committee members were not informed. It should also be noted that these requirements seem relatively standard for KCL student groups. When asked about the new rules in BSoc, a KCLSU spokesperson stated “it is common for groups to have requirements such as this where certain roles will only be open to a select group of individuals”.

Criticism of Taludker’s election policy has developed into greater antagonism toward her. When the KCLSU rejected Farhan Ali’s nomination for Treasurer due to the aforementioned eligibility issues, Ali messaged “Anusha deffo slid KCLSU 100 taka [Bangladesh’s national currency]”. When confronted about his remarks on the group chat by Roar, Ali said it was intended as a “lighthearted joke”, noting that 100 taka barely even amounts to £1.

Another person typed to the group “kick Anusha once you’re President” to which Farhan Ali responded “rahhh”. Farhan since criticised the “kick Anusha” comment as “unconstructive” and claimed that his response was meant to express disbelief or shock. However, another source within the society believed this was part of a larger pattern of harassment, saying “there have been quite few misogynistic and extremely disrespectful messages being thrown around”. In particular, they noted a constant comparison between Taludker and Bangladesh’s Prime Minister, Sheikh Hasina, who has been frequently accused of corruption, rigging elections and human rights abuses.

A history of mistrust

While the recent vitriol toward the Taludker was driven by the election rule changes, conflict between her and some of BSoc’s members isn’t new. In February, the KCLSU concluded an investigation into her over claims of bullying and improperly removing an elected committee member from their role.

The complainant, Sumaya Choudhury, alleged that Taludker had wrongfully removed her from her position as Charity Officer and used patronising, intimidating language both via text and face-to-face. After hearing about the investigation, Roar got in touch with Choudhury. She explained that Taludker had faulted her for not attending the Freshers’ Fair back in September and claimed that she have been absent from subsequent events.

However, Choudhury disputes that narrative. She was unwell for the Freshers’ Fair but attended two other events before being removed from the committee. She also said that Taludker would frequently disparage committee members behind their backs. At 2am one morning, Choudhury said she was contacted by Anusha who informed her that she’d been removed from her position as Charity Officer and kicked off the BSoc group chat.

The subsequent KCLSU investigation into the incident did find that Taludker acted improperly in removing Choudhury as Charity Officer, saying “no due democratic process was followed”. However, the investigators did not find evidence that Taludker had engaged in bullying or harassment. Choudhury was disappointed in the investigation’s findings, remarking “for nothing to be done about it is appalling, not even a warning”.

KCLSU procedure for removing a committee member

Sources close to Talukdar claim that she did not unfairly dismiss the Charity Officer but instead criticised the KCLSU for not making the proper processes more clear. However, the procedure for expelling a committee member are laid out in the second section of the KCLSU by-laws which are available online (see above). A vote to expel a Committee Member can be held if that member “is no longer deemed fit to hold that position” and if attemps to rectify the situation are unsuccessful.

Where Talukdar appears to have misstepped is that the vote is supposed to be facilitated by the KCLSU. Even if the Charity Officer was deemed unfit by BSoc’s committee, Choudhury’s removal would still have fallen short of what was required by KCLSU by-laws.

Siam Murshed, a candidate for President, said that this incident, coupled with other factors, nearly pushed him to call for a vote of no-confidence in Taludker’s leadership. However, sources close to Talukder claim that inquiries into her leadership are mainly based on her “cultural background” and matters of her personal life.

With regards to the bullying accusation, sources on both sides of the debate accused the other of bad behaviour and sewing mistrust amongst committee members. Choudhury described an unfriendly culture where Taludker would talk unfavourably about committee members behind their backs. Another source countered by saying that the group chats clearly show it is Taludker on the receiving end of harassment.

The religion factor

Another dimension that our source close to Taludker mentioned was the President’s mixed-faith background, with one Hindu and one Muslim parent. They believed that it has drawn skepticism from some members of the Bangladesh Society.

They referenced a text conversation between Murshed and Taludker in November last year where he questioned her about her faith. He noted that some society members had taken issue with her promotion of Hindu festivals, such as Diwali and Durga Puja. Murshed claimed that these weren’t his concerns, rather he was just relaying what other society members, particularly members of the Islamic Society had told him. However, our source countered saying that they’d contacted ISoc who said that they rejected Murshed’s characterisation of their views. “The hostility and questioning Siam referred to as being from ISoc was actually from himself and his own personal views” our source said.

Reflecting on the conversation with Taludker, Murshed completely dismissed the idea that he had taken issue with her faith saying “I explained to her very gently why people might have some confusion (i.e someone who posts festivals and being at celebrations of two religions). I also specifically said, while it isn’t right that people come to their own conclusions about her religious background, I hope she understood that people made their own interpretations beyond our control”.

Farhan Ali categorically denied that his opposition to Taludker’s leadership was over her faith, saying “[Bangladesh Society] is a place for people of all faiths to share their love for Bangladeshi culture”. Bangladesh is home to roughly 12 million Hindus.

A brutal campaign

Campaign poster supposedly showing “BSoc endorsements” was promoted on WhatsApp and Instagram

In an effort to oust Talukdar, Farhan Ali and several other candidates for committee positions started posting campaign graphics on the society group chat with their names under the banner “BSoc endorsed candidates”. The poster can be seen above with several names including Farhan Ali for Treasurer, Siam Murshed for President and both Neha Ahmed and Zahir Ali for Vice President. The graphic was also posted on Instagram. However, a source close to Talukdar has said that none of these candidates were, in fact, endorsed by the society’s committee or through any official process. This tactic has garnered accusations of misleading voters.

Farhan dismissed this saying that he commonly jokes “I am BSoc” on the group chat and that “BSoc endorsed candidates” simply referred to his own personal endorsements. He explained “it was all part of a joke that BSoc members, who keep up with the messages on the chat, would be aware of”. However, our source said “not only have multiple election principles of the KCLSU been broken but, most importantly, the democratic legitimacy of elections have been undermined”.

As seen, the graphic also contains the slogan “Remove the Sheikh Hasina from power”. One source says that this is a derogatory comparison between Taludker and the Bangladeshi PM, constituting “negative campaign”, a violation of KCLSU election principles. They said “as an active member of this society, I feel extremely uncomfortable as a voter as I am not being given the chance to [cast a] ballot without interference due to the several attempts made to influence our views through unjust and disrespectful campaigning.”

While Farhan Ali, Zahir Ali and Siam Murshed said they had no role in creating the poster, they all told Roar that the slogan was in reference to the committee as a whole rather than Taludker as an individual. Zahir Ali said “it’s in reference to what Sheikh Hasina encompasses, which is corruption, a thirst for power and rancid nepotism. These attributes have manifested themselves into the [BSoc] committee, which is what the slogan refers to”. They denied that their criticism of the committee or Taludker constitutes “negative campaigning” under KCLSU by-laws, no matter how harsh.

Both our sources close to Taludker and Murshed have said that that the KCLSU are investigating allegations into bullying within BSoc. The former claims that the investigations are against the President’s critics on the committee and the latter claims the investigation is into the President herself. We reached out for clarifications from the KCLSU but they refused to comment until after the election has passed.

The dust settles

BSoc, which was intended to be homely environment where students can celebrate Bangladeshi culture together, has descended into a nasty brawl with both sides accusing the other of engaging in bullying and unfair election campaigning. It remains to be seen if the group can heal after the dust settles on this election season and a possible KCLSU investigation.

On Wednesday 4th of May, the student group election results were released by the KCLSU. Both Taludker and Murshed, who have locked horns lately, received enough votes to serve as Co-Presidents of BSoc for the following academic year. When asked about the result, Murshed said “I’m not sure if it’s the best for BSoc but I’ll try my best from my side to make it work”. Talukdar expressed that she was “anxious and anticipating being put in a difficult position again” but also “really grateful to be voted in by the members”. She mentioned that the pair of them had a discussion on potential Co-Presidency before the election turmoil began. Both Taludker and Murshed remain open to working with each other; the question remains as to whether they can bring BSoc back together.

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