There are four parliamentary constituencies in Kushtia. Before the 2008 election, all four of these seats were in BNP control. Kushtia was known as a BNP stronghold at the time. But over the past three elections, this district has become to be known as the Awami League fortress. Being in power for 15 consecutive years, inner conflict has sprung up in Awami League all over. Awami League is not faced by BNP now, but by Awami League itself. The party’s grassroots leaders say that the conflict between the party leaders and the people’s representatives has reached a height. The party will pay the price in the forthcoming election unless these conflicts are resolved.
Meanwhile, BNP is ensnared with cases and attacks. The party's leaders and activists are scattered. They are weary, having to appear in court, facing at least 150 political cases filed against them. They had not been carrying out any significant political programmes for quite some time. However, over the last few months they have been active in the field, first with the 10-point movement and later with the one-point movement of the party. With the election drawing close, there have even been squabbling over nominations.
Outside of these two parties, Jatiya Samajtantrik Dal (Jasod), an ally of Awami League, is not faring well in Kushtia. Awami League had locked in conflict with Jasod quite a few times. The leaders and activists of the two parties often get involved in clashes with each other, leading to arson and damaging property.
Hanif all-in-all in AL
Central Awami League's joint general secretary Mahbub Ul Alam Hanif was born in Bheramara. In the 1996 and 2001 parliament elections, Hanif contested from Kushtia-2 (Bheramara-Mirpur) and was defeated. Hasanul Haq Inu, president of Jashod, a partner in the mahajote (grand alliance) was made the 'boat' candidate in that constituency. Hanif was made Awami League joint general secretary and later prime minister Sheikh Hasina's special assistant.
Hanif was nominated by Awami League in the Kushtia-3 (Sadar) seat for the 2014 election and was elected member of parliament for the first time. Since then, Awami League leaders and activists of the district town and the upazilas started to become his followers. His cousin Ataur Rahman left Bheramara and came to Kushtia town to get a post in municipal Awami League. He later became upazila parishad chairman. Gradually the district Awami League politics went under Hanif's control.
The grassroots leaders say that the MPs have created their own camp within the district. This is creating rifts in the party. In recent times, no senior leaders, including the district president and general secretary of the party, are attending any programme of Hanif. As a result of this division, Awami League candidates faced a fiasco in the last union parishad (UP) election. In the Sadar upazila, two 'boat' candidates won in the 13 UPs. Awami League rebel candidates won in 9 and independent candidates in 2. Hanif's cousin Ataur Rahman is blamed for this abject failure of the 'boat' in the UP election. He creates rifts all over.
A certain leader on condition of anonymity said, Ataur Rahman controls everything solely in the Sadar. This has upset a number of senior district ad upazila leaders, for which they avoid attending Hanif's meetings. This has been going on for quite some years now.
When Mahbub Ul Alam Hanif was approached at his home on 16 September, he was unwilling to discuss local politics. He said, "The local leaders will talk about that." He only said that regular meetings were being held with the grassroots leaders.
There is conflict between the member of parliament of the Kushtia-1 (Daulatpur) seat and upazila Awami League president AKM Sarwar Jahan and former member of parliament, upazila committee vice president Rezaul Huq Chowdhury. They hold party programmes separately. Rezaul Huq wants to contest from this seat again. His younger brother, upazila Jubo League president Bulbul Ahmed also is working towards becoming a candidate here.
There is also sharp differences between Kushtia-4 (Kumarkhali-Khoksha)'s member of parliament Selim Ashraf (George) and the senior leader of the district and upazilas. In the race for nomination against Selim, are district Awami League president Sadar Uddin Khan, district Awami League vice president Zahid Hossain (Zafar), and Kumarkhali upazila Awami League president Abdul Mannan Khan. For a few years now these leaders have been holding meetings and programmes in Kumarkhali and Khoksha without the MP.
When asked about the reason behind this rift, the local leaders said that Selim Altaf only remained with this uncle, Kumarkhali upazila Awami League general secretary Shamsuzzaman Arun. Selim's followers say that the senior leaders cannot accept him because he is young.
Speaking to Prothom Alo, Sadar Uddin Khan said, differences have emerged between a number of people's representatives and grassroots leaders of the party. Unless those are cleared up, this may have an effect on the forthcoming election. And it was necessary to nominate a candidate based on the views of the grassroots and someone who has close ties with the party and the people.
Conflict in BNP, pressure of cases
Rather than endeavouring to reestablish its old stronghold in Kushtia, BNP there is immersed in a leadership crisis and internal feuds. The local leaders and activists of BNP are also under pressure from Awami League and the police. There are at least 150 cases against the BNP men in the district. The accused in these cases total at least 5000 in number. Over a hundred of them have been arrested at various time. Nine of them are in jail at present. BNP is in so organisationally disorganised that they haven't been able to take to the streets over the past few years. They have held all the centrally-declared programmes informally. These programmes had no visible effect other than a few photo sessions.
The party men say that since 2013 till June this year, they had not been able to hold any large protest programme or demonstration announced by the centre. The differences among the top leaders and deserving individuals not being duly evaluated, had dampened the morale of the party leaders and workers. The district committee didn't have a meeting in three years. They could not carry out any movements or demonstrations. There is conflict between district BNP's general secretary Sohrab Uddin and joint general secretary Zakir Hossain Sarkar. They both want nomination from the Sadar seat. Both have separate camps. There is conflict in the other seats as well.
District BNP treasurer Zainul Abedin Prodhan told Prothom Alo that there was widespread conflict in the party. There were organisational weaknesses. It was urgent that these weaknesses be overcome and the party revived. Organising secretary Shameemul Hasan said, there are problems within the party. A few leaders were creating confusion in the name of competition.
Kushtia district BNP general secretary Sohrab Uddin said, "The years are being spent facing attacks, cases and wondering around the court verandahs. We haven't been able to even sit in the party office over the past few years because of pressure from the government. There is conflict among the leaders in certain places. If directives come from the centre, everyone including the grassroots are prepared for the election."
Jashod awkward in the alliance
Jatiya Samajtantrik Dal (Jashod) has an organisatonal base in Kushtia politics. Being a part of the Awami League-led mahajote, Jashod central president Hasanul Haq Inu has been the MP in Kushtia-2 for three consecutive terms. This seat has a large number of Jashod leaders and activists. There are no significant differences among the Jashod men in the district and upazilas there. But there is strong conflict with Awami League. Over the past 15 years there has been attacks, clashes and even killings between these two parties. Jashod maintains that these incidents occur over local problems. It is not a party issue.
District Jashod president Golam Mohsin, speaking to Prothom Alo, said that Jashod is extremely well organised in Kushtia. There are no conflicts. There is no problem in the alliance either. Jashod is prepared for the coming election.