For the past 30 years, the Rangpur sadar constituency has been controlled by HM Ershad or his Jatiya Party (JaPa). This made Rangpur their stronghold all these years, but times have changed. The local Awami League now is determined to take over the JaPa fort.
The ruling party’s local leaders have said that Ershad has passed away and Awami League is singlehandedly running the government. Also, Ershad’s family and JaPa are both divided.
Given the circumstances, the AL leaders see this as a golden opportunity to reclaim this seat which they had no claim over since 1973. Rangpur AL leaders are putting pressure on the party’s central leadership not to come to any sort of understanding with JaPa over the Rangpur by-election.
So far 16 local AL leaders have collected nomination forms for the by-election. Such interest in the seat was quite unprecedented.
Centrally too, Jatiya Party and other allies of the ruling party are rapidly losing importance. This turn in the tide has encouraged the aspiring candidates further.
President of Rangpur city AL and one of the main contenders for nomination, Shafiur Rahman, told Prothom Alo that the general expectation is that whoever gets the AL ‘boat’ symbol, will win the by-polls.
However, veteran politician of Rangpur, Ashraf Harun, who is also president of the Rangpur district committee of Gonotantri Party, a 14 Party ally, feels that the large number of aspiring candidates will put pressure on the centre.
He told Prothom Alo that there are pros and cons to having so many candidates.
“This puts local pressure on the centre,” he said, adding, “but the fresh rift in JaPa goes in favour of AL.”
Local AL leaders feel Ershad’s absence will gradually weaken JaPa. They also feel if they repeatedly compromise with JaPa in this seat, AL will lose relevance in the constituency and BNP may take advantage of the situation.
Rangpur district AL treasurer Abul Kasem told Prothom Alo, “JaPa would have faded out long ago, but AL kept it alive. Now there is no reason to give JaPa leeway any longer. The party won’t survive in the long run.”
Meanwhile, the rift between JaPa chairman GM Quader and co-chairman Raushan Ershad has created conflict within the party over several issues including who will be party chairman, who will be the leader of opposition in parliament, and who will be nominated for the Rangpur by-election.
A faction of the party on Thursday declared Raushan Ershad party chairperson, causing confusion among the party leaders and workers in Rangpur and the rest of the country.
However, one of the contenders for nomination in the by-polls and JaPa district committee general secretary Fakhruzzaman has said this situation is temporary. The differences will clear up as the party’s field level activists and supporters see GM Quader and his followers as Ershad’s Jatiya Party.
AL’s Rangpur leaders realise that the rift in JaPa goes in their favour, but they do not express this publicly. They prefer to use the development issue in their campaigns.
Central member of AL’s advisory council and nomination aspirant, Chowdhury Khalequzzaman, told Prothom Alo, “The country is progressing under the prime minister’s leadership, but Rangpur is not. We have repeatedly relinquished this seat. The mahajote (‘grand alliance’) may benefit from this, but the people of Greater Rangpur suffer.”
The Rangpur-3 seat fell vacant upon the death of JaPa founder HM Ershad. He has been elected to this seat since 1991. The by-election is to be held on 5 October. So far five persons from Jatiya Party, 16 from Awami League and five from the BNP have collected nomination forms.
People of all walks of life in Rangpur town on Thursday spoke to Prothom Alo, saying that feelings for Ershad were still alive in Rangpur and his ‘plow’ symbol was still popular.
Some also say that after Reita Rahman won 53,000 votes contesting under BNP’s ‘sheaf of paddy’ symbol in the last election, the ‘paddy sheaf’ may emerge as the main opponent to the ‘plow’ and ‘boat’ in the by-election.
JaPa leaders say that the Rangpur by-election is crucial for them. Much of JaPa’s future politics depends upon whether AL comes to an understanding or not over this seat and who JaPa will put up as their candidate.
* This report appeared in the print edition of Prothom Alo and has been rewritten in English by Ayesha Kabir