January 27, 2012
M. Serajul Islam
Former Prime Minister of Pakistan Mr. Zulfikar Ali Bhutto had said in his hey days that in politics, there is never a position of no return. What he meant was that a politician can make somersaults anytime; swing like the pendulum in taking positions on politics and political issues. Mr. Bhutto in his long career proved what he said with the life he lived. Our very own former President General HM Ershad would have made Mr. Bhutto proud for he is proving with his politics that everything is possible for him in terms of changing and taking stand on politics and politics issues.
In fact, he has gone a step forward. After calling Sheikh Hasina his sister, signing on the dotted lines to jump on the AL’s bandwagon before the next elections, he is now speaking in a manner no different from the official opposition, the BNP while remaining a part of the coalition that is running the government. In a recent speech at his party’s headquarters, he told his supporters that the Almighty has kept him alive so long so that he could come to power and deliver the country from its current misrule!
During his party’s long march to the Teesta Barrage, the former President attacked the government in the speeches he made at the Barrage site as well as in the road side meetings while going to the site on an issue that has the potentials of becoming the ruling party’s Achilles’ heel for the next elections, namely its handling of our relations with India. He claimed all the glory for construction of the Teesta Barrage at a time when water flowed on the River Teesta on our side. He went on to blame subsequent governments that came to power after his ouster for failing to receive from India an agreement for a fair share of the water of the Teesta that has been turned waterless in Bangladesh causing havoc in the lives of millions who depend on the Teesta water for irrigation and their livelihood.
The former President has clearly sensed that the India factor is fast becoming an issue in our politics. He is cashing upon it He has also sensed that public support has shifted considerably from the ruling party on the other issues of governance such as the state of the economy, corruption and the rest that had brought the BNP Government down in a disastrous way.
In fact, in a TV Talk show recently, former Prime Minister and JP leader Kazi Zafar Ahmed took the ruling party apart on the failure of the government to deliver. He also accused the AL for breaking a good number of promises it made to the JP of which one was to make Mr. HM Ershad the President. Another commitment that he AL broke on wining the elections handsomely was to deny the Jatiya party a fair share of ministerial posts instead of just one. President Ershad has stated very unequivocally that the JP would go alone in the next elections. Clearly, the Jatiya Party has its sights set for the next elections.
The sudden and unexpected activities of Mr. HM Ershad and the JP have raised in the minds of the politically conscious people quite a few questions. Why is the AL allowing the JP to carry out what it is doing while still allowing it to remain a part of the ruling coalition? The AL is not known for its generosity to those who are so openly critical of it. President Ershad is these days criticizing the AL in the same vein as the BNP. Yet while the AL is doing everything to create hurdles for the BNP in its role as an opposition political party; it is not taking any such action against the Jatiya Party. It seems weird and suspicious that Mr. HM Ershad is being able to criticize the government with such consummate ease. What President Ershad and the JP are doing is extremely unusual in the politics of coalition government in a parliamentary democracy. It is this unusual nature of Mr. HM Ershad’s role that has given rise to speculation that all that the JP is doing is part of a well thought strategy that has the approval of the ruling party.
The speculation centers on the ruling party’s desire to hold the next elections under an interim government to be headed by it. The BNP has already dismissed its participation under such a system that it thinks is a blueprint of the ruling party to return to power. The ruling party is preparing the JP as a major opposition so that it could show the critics particularly those outside the country that it is a major party fit to play the role of the opposition to give legitimacy to the proposed elections under the interim government. Such a speculation makes sense as the JP has already started behaving as the main opposition and has also announced that it has chosen 200 candidates for the elections still 2 years away and is in the process of selection the remaining 100.
The JP’s hurry to nominate candidates when even the AL has not started talking about the issue may have spilled the beans; that in all these there is collusion between it and the ruling party. Those speculating on collusion also see this strategy as a very naïve one that would go more for the benefit of the BNP than the AL and the JP. For one, the Jatiya Party is still a party on the fringe having polled only in low single digit of the votes in the last elections for the people to take it as a serious opposition to replace the BNP in the event the latter refrained from the election sunder the interim government. Then, there is the major issue of credibility of the former President. There are few who would be prepared to accept him for whatever he may have done in his decade long illegitimate rule of the country because on the trust factor; he has been the worst politicians ever in our politics. Finally, he carries the baggage of the army that the people do not want in politics in any form.
In fact, Mr. HM Ershad and some of his colleagues are creating public opinion against the Awami League on issues that a large number of people consider to be correct. However, the JP is giving itself far too much credit in believing that the people who would otherwise be voting for the BNP in the next general elections would vote for it instead and that BNP would be forgotten in the country and the rest of the world would accept a general elections without the BNP as legitimate and fair. This is a fairy tale script and to realize such a script, President Ershad would indeed need divine intervention. The AL would of course need to pray to the Almighty to come to the aid of President Ershad for that would ensure the AL’s return to power with the “loyal” JP as the opposition.
One will have to be out of one’s mind to expect that such a naïve approach to serious politics would serve any purpose. As for President HM Ershad, there could still be twist in the tale and the AL should not be surprised to see that he has become a part of the opposition coalition led by the BNP. For its own sake, the AL needs to bring President HM Ershad under control for as a coalition partner, it cannot let him act as the loose cannon without public suspicion enhancing that there is a game the two are playing.
The writer is a retired career diplomat and former Ambassador to Japan