Jatiya Party chairman HM Ershad recently announced that his party is going to step out of the Awami League-led grand alliance and form a new political alliance. The new alliance is likely to include at least 12 pro-liberation war and Islamic parties. If everything goes according to plan, the new alliance will be introduced to the public by the end of April. The party chief is moving forward with the selection process and a number of other planning activities, said senior JP leaders.
Sources said the JP is trying to conclude its long overdue conferences in 37 organizational districts within April. The process began with the Rangpur district JP conference on March 18. The central body has already instructed the grassroots to arrange conferences at the metropolitan, upazila, union, and ward levels. Ershad is planning an organizational tour to the greater districts in order to piece together the party properly. It is known that a number of member parties of the BNP-led 20-party alliance are interested in forging an alliance with JP. The top leaders of those parties have already contacted Ershad to talk about why they want to includleave the BNP-led alliance. Alongside, some former members of the 20-party alliance are also showing interest in allying with JP. All the member parties of the former BNP leader, barrister Nazmul Huda-led Bangladesh Nationalist Alliance (BNA), along with at least 12 small political parties that are not yet part of any alliance, want to join the Ershad-led alliance. Some of the Islamic parties have already had primary conversations with Ershad regarding this issue.
Ershad is moving ahead with a number of other plans to do well in the next election, sources said. Along with the party secretary general Ruhul Aamin Hawladar, Ershad has taken up some mega plans to reorganize the party from the ground up. Some of the highest priority projects are: choosing candidates, strengthening the party at the grassroots level, and organizational tours. He wants to complete all these tasks within the next three months. He has already instructed his senior leaders to increase communication at the field level and be more active to strengthen the party.
The central body has already announced district level conference dates for areas where the party’s committees have already expired. As part of the process, the Rangpur district and metropolitan council began on March 18. Ershad was the main guest at the event. The other fixed dates for councils are March 25 in Panchagar, April 15 in Kurigram, March 28 in Gazipur, March 30 in Shariyatpur, April 1 in Mymensingh district and metropolitan, April 2 Netrokona, April 10 Narshingdhi, April 27 Narayanganj district and metropolitan, March 10 Brahmanbaria, March 21 Noakhali, March 22 Feni, March 23 Chandpur, April 15 Khagrachari, April 16 Rangamati, March 25 Rajshahi metropolitan and Naogaon, May 27 Rajshahi district, April 13 Chuadanga and Jheniadah, April 14 Jessore and Magura, March 11 Bhola, April 5 Barisal district, April 6 Jhalkathi, April 7 Pirozepur, April 4 Sunamganj, April 21 Hobiganj, April 24 Moulvibazar, and April 25 Sylhet. All the central leaders of the party will attend these councils.
HM Ershad Chairman of Jatiya Party
Creating a new alliance does not mean it will be against the government. The government of Sheikh Hasina has been working for the development of the country. Though we have different political ideologies, we are on the same page regarding development. We have the same goals – the development of Bangladesh and its countrymen. So, we will work together to lead the country towards prosperity. Jatiya Party used to be a strong political party like the Awami League. We want to make our party strong again. A number of political parties have contacted us with the idea of forming an alliance. Some of them have already held meetings with us. Some of these parties are registered, some are not- but all of them have relevance and acceptance in society. All of them agree on the necessity of a new alliance under JP’s leadership. After weighing all the options, we have decided to go forward with it. Our alliance will be a combination of the spirit of the Liberation War and Islamic ideology. If the allied parties have good candidates, we will step aside and give them the chance to contest those particular seats. For strategic reasons, we cannot reveal the names of all our allies who have showed interest right now, but everything will be transparent soon enough. The people are showing an interest in JP, and that is why many other political parties are interested in us as well. Some of them want to join JP with their followers, while others want to be part of the alliance. I have considered the fact that both BNP and Awami League have their alliances. So, why not we have one of our own?
Ershad is trying to include some religion-based parties includleave ing Islami Oikya Jote, Bangladesh Khelafat Majlish, and Nizam-e-Islam Bangladesh, as well as some other small parties in his new alliance. On March 8, the former president held a meeting with leaders of the Bangladesh Islamic Front (BIF) at his Baridhara residence.
BIF president Maulana Abdul Mannan led the delegation, according to party sources. Recently, Ershad had a meeting with Hefazat chief Ahmad Shah Shafi, who campaigns for Shariah laws in the country, during a visit to Hefazat’s Hathazari madrasa in Chittagong. However, neither Ershad nor any spokesperson of Hefazat admitted any political motivation behind this meeting. After the meeting, Ershad told reporters, “I came here to take blessings from the huzur (Shafi). He blessed me so that I can be successful in the next election.” Following the meeting, Hefazate- Islam’s secretary general Zunayed Babunagari said, “Hefazat will never be a part of any alliance, neither will it ever contest in any election. It is a non-political organization. HM Ershad came here to take blessings from the huzur. However, Hefazat will support any party that agrees with our 13 point demands.” Sources said Ershad has assured Hefazat about accepting their 13 point demands to ensure their vote bank in his favor. In 2013 he actively supported the 13-point movement despite being a key ally of the 14-party alliance. This is not the first time Ershad has tried to cash in on religious sentiments. He introduced Islam as the state religion in the secular constitution of Bangladesh in 1988, when his dictatorial regime was on the verge of crumbling.
The motivation behind Ershad’s decision to get out of the grand alliance and form a new alliance is raising many questions and speculations in the political sphere. Dr. Badruduzza Chowdhury of Bikalpadhara, Kader Siddiqui of Krishak Shamik Janata League, ASM Abdur Rob of Jatiya Shamajtantrik Dal (JSD) and colonel Oli Ahmed of LDP are likely to be Ershad’s new allies.
JP is also making attempts to include in the proposed alliance some factions of political parties, including National Peoples Party, National Democratic Party and Muslim League, who left the 20-party alliance on different grounds and Anwar Hossain Manju, CPB-BSD and Gonoforum, who were not part of the grand alliance. Alongside, the party is trying to convince some other political parties, particularly those members of the BNP-led 20-party alliance, who are registered with the EC, to join the alliance. Lately, Ershad is being very vocal about his desire to go back to power, although his comments are often selfcontradictory. A while ago he told reporters, “One of the main political parties wants a caretaker government, the other does not. None of them are thinking about the people. This is our one chance, and we are going to take this chance. Jatiya Party will no longer be a stepping stone for any other political party.” In a later interview to a private TV channel, he said, “I would rather go to jail than participate in a rigged election. His tone softened after the new Election Commission was formed. He welcomed the new EC and said that BNP will not boycott the next general election like previous polls. "BNP is bound to join the election to save its registration, no matter what its leaders are now saying,” he added.
For the last one year, he was adamant that JP would participate in the poll as a singular party, but now he is focused on forming a new alliance. The turnabout in his comments and actions suggests that he is gearing up to participate in the election no matter what, and he is trying to maximize his chances of winning by banding together with other political parties. However, a number of senior JP leaders are strictly against the idea of leaving the Awami League-led grand alliance. They think that if Ershad truly ends up leaving the alliance, JP will face another split. A couple of pro-Awami League presidium members of the party are not willing to leave the grand alliance. Alongside, there are questions regarding the leadership of the proposed new alliance as well. Both Ershad and Badruddoza Chowdhury are former presidents of the country, so there will be a clear power struggle. The roles of Kader Siddiqui and Mahmudur Rahman Manna are still undecided as well.
One of the main reasons behind JP’s decision to break away from the grand alliance is dissatisfaction. Awami League was supposed to give 60 seats in parliament to JP. Instead, JP only got 46 seats, and 17 of those were occupied by AL-backed candidates. JP contested in the elections under its own official symbol in 29 seats and won 27 of them. However, on the grand alliance’s decision, JP withdrew its candidacy countrywide except for those 60 seats. Ershad won three seats, and after he let go of two seats according to the rules, an Awami League candidate took over one of them. Similarly, after the Sunamganj JP member of parliament died, an Awami League leader took over his seat. Due to such incidents, many central and grassroots level JP leaders are severely dissatisfied with the Awami League. Moreover, one of the deals between the ruling Awami League and JP was that Ershad would be given the presidency of the country, and a balanced ratio would be maintained during the distribution of ministerial positions. None of those conditions were honored. GM Kader was the only JP leader to be appointed as a minister, but he failed to properly utilize the limited power he had. In the countrywide appointment of district administrators, JP leaders-activists did not get any positions. During the appointment of judges, JP’s request to the government to appoint one judge from the party fell on deaf ears as well. Over 1,500 people were appointed to government posts, and only two of them were from JP. Considering all these unequal bargains, many believe JP is trying to break away from the grand alliance.
Alongside, JP has lost its credibility as an effective political party for its 'dual role' as the opposition and part of the government. So, forming a new alliance might be a move towards establishing the party’s political identity. However, there’s speculation about an ulterior motive behind this decision as well. According to party sources, the main purpose of forming the new alliance is aimed at creating pressure on BNP as a political strategy.
Mahbubul Alam Hanif Joint general secretary of Awami League
As one of the main allies of the government and as the main opposition party in parliament, JP should have a balance of power within the party structure. Awami League is intensely observing the current situation and the leadership conflict in JP. Ershad is very unpredictable, which is the reason why no one can rely on him. Making self-contradictory remarks and changing his mind frequently have become his political habit. On the other hand, the government has two state ministers and a minister from JP. The party holds 34 seats in parliament and serves as the opposition party. It also holds 6 of the reserved women's seats. So, any intra-party conflict or split in JP will inevitably affect the government. The anti-Awami League lobby of this party is trying to get stronger, but we will not give them that chance.
Ziauddin Ahmed Bablu Special assistant to JP chairman
The new alliance under JP’s leadership was not the government’s idea. On the one hand, HM Ershad announced that JP will contest in 300 seats. On the other hand, he is trying to form a new alliance. At first glance, his actions might come across as self-contradictory. However, he is just trying to keep all the options open for political polarization. The next election will be conducted as per the constitution, an d JP is preparing for that. Any experienced politician will try to expand the political territory of his party. Recently, an election has concluded in the Uttar Pradesh state of India. Prior to that election, no one imagined that Congress could ever form an alliance with a socialist party. But they did it due to the necessity of circumstances. Similarly, Ershad is assessing the current political situation carefully and making each move strategically. We believe in elections because elections are an integral part of democracy. We do not believe in the politics of destruction. JP has always participated in elections and Ershad is one of th e most seasoned politicians of our country. He will make sure that the alliance is acceptable to everyone. The government has no hand in the fo rmation of this alliance.
Although Ershad has let his desire to be at the helm of the Jatiya Party until his death be known, he is gradually losing his power in the party. His attempts to establish his sole authority by removing potential threats has been foiled. He removed Tajul Islam Chowdhury MP from the policy making committee of the party. Tajul Islam was selected chief whip of the opposition by Rowshan Ershad, and his removal created a rift between Ershad and Rowshan. However, the government quickly appointed Tajul as chief of the Parliamentary Standing Committee on the Ministry of Commerce, a first from the main opposition, Jatiya Party. A number of JP sources said that Rowshan played an active role in Tajul’s appointment as chief of the Parliamentary Standing Committee. Commerce minister Tofail Ahmed and other top leaders also supported this decision, much to the dismay of Ershad. Against Ershad’s wish, Rowshan Ershad and most MP’s of the party nominated Quazi Feroz Rashid as the deputy opposition leader in parliament. This decision caused a further rift between Ershad and Rowshan.
JP chief HM Ershad is one of the most unpredictable and unreliable characters in Bangladesh’s politics. He contradicts himself so often that political analysts are doubtful about the future of his new alliance. He is trying to include both pro-liberation war and Islamic political parties with Jatiya Party. His attempt to include former BNP leaders in his alliance is not seeing much success either because they are not able to rely on Ershad.
Most importantly, JP is not politically powerful or influential enough to get what it wants. Even after spending so many years as the opposition party in parliament, people consider them as the “B team” of Awami League. According to reports and surveys of many intelligence agencies, JP has almost no local influence in most parts of the country. Most of the MPs of this party are completely detached from the masses, and barely surviving as beneficiaries of Awami League’s popularity and influence. As a result, the other political parties are not confident about any alliance led by JP. Ershad’s personal history has cast further doubt on his credibility as a strong, reliable leader. So, there are many concerns about the alliance’s future.
According to sources, JP’s decision to form a grand alliance with Islamic political parties is nothing but a strategy of the government. Following the war crimes trials, Jamaat-e-Islam has lost most of its top leaders. The party has also lost its electoral symbol. Many members of the party blame BNP’s lack of action for the sorry state of Jamaat. Jatiya Party wants to lure in these dissatisfied members to its grand alliance to get their vote bank on its side, and the government is allegedly more than okay with this plan. Many political analysts believe that the government considers Jamaat as its main opponent, and wants to ensure that its votes do not go in BNP’s favor. Awami League would rather have the weak, unpopular JP draw a share of the Islami parties’ votes. In order to do so, it has allegedly advised JP to form a coalition with the Islamic parties.
The Jatiya Party is at a loss regarding its political identity. In the process of playing a dual role, the party has more or less lost its relevance. It is said that all the electoral surveys conducted by intelligence agencies and private organizations show that JP has next to no popularity among voters. The MPs of this party are completely detached from the masses. This situation will definitely impact the party’s fate in the upcoming election. JP got 34 seats in the controversial 2014 election, 26 in the 2008 election and 14 in the 2001 election. The party contested in the 2001 polls as a member of the Islami Jatiyo Oikya Front. It was a part of the grand alliance in the 2008 polls, and it contended as the opposition party against the government in the 2014 election. As the 2014 election was highly controversial, all eyes will be on the upcoming election. Many local and international groups are trying to ensure a fair election with the participation of all political parties. Pundits believe that if all the parties have a fair chance, JP is likely to do very poorly.