Extremists are infiltrating Khulna Awami League and some of them have even managed posts in the committees and have contested in elections on the ruling Bangladesh Awami League’s (AL) ticket.
Rumours have it that deputy ministers, members of parliament and local influential leaders are patronising such moves, much to the discomfit of the grassroots AL leaders and activists. To make things worse, a mudslinging game has begun too there.
Prothom Alo investigations found that Shiplu Bhuiyan, the union parishad chairman of Damodar union under Phultala upazila of Khulna, was an extremist leader in the past.
He, however, became a UP chairman contesting the polls under AL’s ‘boat’ symbol. A government’s intelligence agency said he was a leader of the infamous Purba Banglar Communist Party.
Shiplu Bhuiyan's name was the third on the list in the intelligence report. He reportedly had around a dozen cases against him, including murder, abduction and extortion. He was also sentenced to 32 years imprisonment in one of these cases.
His elder brother Shimul Bhuiyan's name is also on the list, at number four. There are around a dozen cases against him as well. Shimul has gone into hiding.
Shiplu claimed that it was only his brother who had been involved with extremism and he did not join his brother despite repeated requests. District Awami League general secretary SM Mostafa Rashdi brought him to AL.
Party sources say Shiplu joined AL on 11 November 2014 during a programme marking the founding anniversary of Juba League by presenting a bouquet to deputy minister for fisheries and livestock Narayan Chandra Chanda. Upazila Awami League president and upazila chairman Sheikh Akram Hossain played a key role to bring Shiplu to the party. Akram was also instrumental in helping Shiplu win the union parishad election.
"Had Shiplu been guilty, we would not have brought him in. No one from AL could win in the Damodar union in the last 32 years. But we could do it thanks to Shiplu. However, we know that his brother is an extremist," Sheikh Akram told Prothom Alo.
Police say extremists are involved in a number of recent killings in Khulna. Shimul is behind the 27 May murder of Sardar Alauddin alias Mithu, organisational secretary of Khulna district BNP and a former chairman of Phultola upazila, police found on investigation. A number of 10-15 extremists are close associates of Shiplu, they allege.
Khulna sadar thana AL president Saiful Islam admitted that extremists are entering the party. "It can be deduced that Shimul Bhuiyan is being protected by AL since his brother is a chairman backed by the party."
The name of Ajay Sarkar is number 21 in the list of extremists. A former member of New Biplobi Communist Party, he wanted to contest the zila parishad polls with an AL ticket. Although he did not get the AL nod, he contested as an independent candidate. He may contest in the next national election from either of Khulna-5 (Dumuria-Phultala) or Khulna-6 (Paikgaccha-Koyra). He is a close associate of Mostafa Rashidi.
"From the years 2003-04, some people are trying to establish that I am an extremist, but I had never been involved with any such groups. It's a conspiracy of Jamaat," he said, adding that he was on good terms with Rashidi.
However, Rashidi said quite the opposite. "I did not know Shiplu Bhuiyan has joined the party. And I have no terms with Ajay Sarkar. But yes there are some people like Badsha of Rupsha and Mashikul of Terokhada joining the party and contesting in the elections despite being extremists.
The list of extremists also included Rafiq Joardar in 10th place. He is now a member of the union parishad at Rudaghara besides being the general secretary of ward AL. Shafiqul Islam, who was 12th on the list, is now the general secretary of upazila Sramik League.
"I was once an extremist. I have been to jail as well. But that's past. I have changed now," Rafiq said.
When asked, district AL president and zila parishad chairman Sheikh Harun Ar Rashid admitted that extremists are slowly getting into the party. However, he claimed that it was happening in city AL, not in the district unit. "We are also very scared," he said.
City AL general secretary Mizanur Rahman said, "I have taken no new faces in, but some may have entered the district AL. The PM has asked me not to take any unethical person into the party."
Sheikh Harun has blamed it on deputy minister Narayan Chandra, but the minister told Prothom Alo, "Whoever has got in, did it with a recommendation of the local committee. Fultala upazila president Akram got Shiplu Bhuiyan into the party."
When asked if Shiplu had joined by presenting him a bouquet, the deputy minister claimed he had been unaware of the facts.
Awami League's archrival BNP is also worried about extremists joining AL. City BNP president Nazrul Islam told Prothom Alo, "Extremists are moving out of jail and then joining the Awami League. They are seen at the residences of the MPs and in their cars. We are really worried, anything may happen anytime."
When asked, Khulna police super Nizamul Huq Molla said, "Many people are changing colours. But we are keeping an eye on them."
*The article originally came up in Prothom Alo print edition and has been rewritten in English by Quamrul Hassan