History seems to be repeating itself, unfolding events similar to those centring former autocrat Ershad in 1996 and 2001.
With the election approaching fast, the deposed president is again becoming a protagonist in national politics as the major political parties look for an ally in him to consolidate their position in the upcoming election.
The way things have been panning out in the last few days reminds one of the BNP’s political manoeuvring to have Ershad on its side in 1996 and 2001. The party is desperate again to have him aboard the ruling coalition led by it.
Branded as an autocrat by most of the parties, he has suddenly turned out to be the most sought after ally for BNP.
Ershad too seems to be looking forward to joining the four-party coalition, oblivious to the fact that he had to stay behind bars for the whole tenure of Khaleda’s first government and that she had once identified him as one who had a hand in the murder of her husband.
He was disqualified from contesting the 2001 national election because of a conviction for corruption.
Ershad’s coming to the fore again was best manifested by his rendezvous with BNP Senior Joint Secretary General Tarique Rahman and State Minister for Home Affairs Lutfozzaman Babar at his [Ershad's] Baridhara residence on July 27.
And it is nothing new.
In early 1996, when the movement for handover of power to a caretaker administration reached its peak with the Awami League (AL)-led opposition threatening to boycott the elections, the then BNP government had attempted to hold the polls with the help of Jatiya Party.
In line with the plan, JP presidium member and former foreign minister barrister Anisul Islam Mahmud held a meeting with the then home minister in the first week of January 1996 to negotiate the JP chairman’s release from jail.
At the meeting, BNP proposed that all charges against Ershad would be dropped in return for JP taking part in the election. Besides, in case of the AL boycotting the polls, he would be the leader of the opposition in parliament.
On January 7, 1996, Raushan Ershad went to meet him at the central jail and briefed him on the outcome of the negotiations. Ershad then decided to have a discussion with his party leaders.
Barrister Mahmud, Kazi Firoze Rashid and Tajul Islam Chowdhury met Ershad in the jail the same day and suggested that he accept the BNP proposal.
When Ershad demanded guarantees before consenting to the BNP proposal, he was told that an ambassador would be his guarantor in the negotiations.
Still, the talks between them failed.
After the June 12 election in 1996, JP extended support to AL in forming government on condition that Ershad would be released from jail.
At that time, several BNP and JP leaders met Ershad at jail, violating all rules and norms, and asked him not to give any support to AL.
Later, Ershad told the press that BNP had offered him the post of prime minister. But he did not agree, because, he said, “it’s them who had thrown me in jail.”
But history repeated itself again in 2001.
Before the election, BNP Chairperson Khaleda Zia, who was uncompromisingly anti-autocrat in the 80s, went to Ershad’s house to express sympathy for the dethroned tyrant after he was convicted in a graft case by the higher court. Ironically, it was the Khaleda government (1991-96) that had filed the case.
Following the meet, Ershad joined BNP-led four-party alliance but later quit. After leaving the coalition, he said in reference to meeting Khaleda: “It is my success that she went to my house.”
The deal between Ershad and the AL government in 2001 seems to have gone one step ahead. When the government assured JP that no more cases would be moved against him, JP parted from the BNP-led four-party alliance and rejoined parliament.
Explaining his decision, Ershad then said, “It was a blunder to join BNP-led alliance.”
The ongoing deal between the BNP and Ershad seems to have gone two steps ahead. The government reportedly assured him that not only the cases against him will be disposed of, he might as well be nominated for presidency.
Now he says. “I was the architect of the four-party alliance. I made a great mistake by quitting the alliance.”
After these dramatic developments, it will not be an overstatement if anyone says opportunism has become the order of the day in national politics.
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