It all began with Abdul Quader Mirza’s ‘revelations’. He raised questions and allegations on Facebook live, at press briefings and at public rallies, concerning irregularities within his family, the party and the country’s election system. His blunt statements have gone beyond local politics and have created a sense of uneasiness in ruling Awami League’s central politics. He has put the government in an uncomfortable position too. However, neither the party nor the government is openly saying anything about the matter.
Mayor of Basurhat pourashava in Companiganj upazila, Noakhali, Abdul Quader was not a known face in national politics but suddenly came to limelight one and a half months ago when he started making revealing statements. Though he had been mayor of the Basurhat pourashava in Noakhali for over a decade, his main claim to fame was his brother, Awami League’s general secretary Obaidul Quader. That is why his statements have created a stir in national politics as well.
Quader Mirza first began talking about the ‘shady politics’ of the Noakhali-4 member of parliament Ekramul Karim Chowdhury and the Feni-2 member of parliament Nizam Hazari. Later his revelations pointed to involvement of public administration and police officials in bribery, tender trade and corruption in appointments. He raised questions about several central leaders of the party. He even questioned his own brother’s qualification for his position in the party based on his moral standards.
On 31 December, he made a statement saying that if the election was free and fair, other than in three or four constituencies in Noakhali, Awami League’s MPs would hardly find an exit to flee. A video of this statement went viral on social media.
At a press conference on 14 February at the National Press Club in Dhaka, Quader Mirza said that certain officials imagined that they were the ones that brought Awami League to power and so they do whatever they want. He questioned how deputy minister for water resources, Enamul Huq, had amassed wealth in billions of taka.
Many central leaders of Awami League even are not clear about the party’s and the government’s stance concerning Mirza’s statements. Prothom Alo spoke to seven important central leaders of Awami League, including two ministers, about the matter over the past few days. None of them wanted to be quoted by name when speaking about Mirza. Some of them remarked that Mirza was “behaving like a mad man.” Some said he was trying to project himself as a national leader. He was aiming to establish himself as the successor to his brother’s seat. But most leaders were in agreement that the matter has done damage to the party. It has increased divisions within local politics. The central leadership has failed to play a clear role or issue any directives in this regard.
The leaders, on condition of anonymity, said that there are conflicts within the party in various areas and the central leaders have become embroiled in these divisions. That is why no one is heeding each other.
Steps are taken in certain instances when the matter reaches the attention of the party chief. But the matter is weakening the party organisationally. This is not quite apparent as the party has been in power for long. In the meantime, the government is becoming more and more dependent on the bureaucracy. Clashes of interest are also emerging between the party leaders and the bureaucracy. This was apparent in Companiganj, Noakhali.
Meanwhile, the main demand voiced during the hartal (general strike) called by Quader Mirza on Saturday in Companiganj, was for Noakhali’s deputy commissioner and superintendent of police and the officer-in-charge of the Companiganj police station, to be withdrawn. Tension prevails in Noakhali as the Awami League central leadership has not openly said anything about the matter as yet. Quader Mirza had said a condolence meeting and milad mehfil (prayer gathering) would be held at 2:20pm today, Monday, at the Rupali Chattar regarding the killing of journalist Borhan Uddin. Earlier, a different faction of the party had announced a protest rally at the same spot at 3:00pm. This faction is led by Companiganj upazila Awami League organising secretary Mizanur Rahman. He is a follower of road transport and bridges minister Obaidul Quader. It is believed that the two MPs of Noakhali and Feni, Ekramul Karim Chowdhury and Nizam Hazari, are in support of Mizanur’s programme.
However, in fear of a deterioration of law and order, the district administration has enforced Section 144 in the Basurhat municipal area of Companiganj, prohibiting meetings and rallies there from 6:00am till 6:00pm. Noakhali deputy commissioner Khorshed Alam informed Prothom Alo of the matter over telephone at 11:00pm Sunday night.
Meanwhile, according to a press release issued on Saturday evening, Noakhali district Awami League had sent a letter to the central committee asking for Mirza to be removed from all activities of the party. Two hours after the press release, district Awami League president AHM Khairul Anam Chowdhury informed journalists over telephone that the decision expel Mirza had been withdrawn. However, the district committee’s general secretary and MP Ekramul Karim Chowdhury said that the decision regarding the recommendation for his expulsion had not been withdrawn.
According to Awami League’s constitution, the district committee can recommend expulsion. However, it is the central executive committee that has the authority to approve it. Or, if the central committee wants, it can expel or release anyone with immediate effect. None of these options were taken in the case of Noakhali. Reliable sources in the party, though, say that the expulsion of Mirza is under consideration of the party policymakers.
Noakhali district Awami League president AHM Khairul Anam Chowdhury told Prothom Alo, “From the very beginning I have regularly informed the party’s general secretary Obaidul Quader about Quader Mirza’s statements against the party and party leaders. He is in an awkward position over the matter and so has failed to take any specific decision.”
Khairul Anam Chowdhury went on to say that he had spoken a few days ago to Awami League president and prime minister Sheikh Hasina about overall matters concerning the district, including Quader Mirza. He told her everything in detail and she said she will look into the matter. They are now awaiting her decision.
Annoyed, but silent
Initially the central leaders had thought that Quader Mirza’s tirade against the party and local leaders was a stunt to increase his votes in the pourashava polls. But as he gradually began bringing about all sorts of allegations against local Awami League leaders, the situation grew more complicated. However, no one is willing to speak out about the matter because the party general secretary’s district and family is involved. The central leaders have spoken at a personal level and in smaller groups, trying to point out that Quader Mirza’s statements and activities are an embarrassment for the party. In the beginning Obaidul Quader had brushed off the matter, assuring that it would be resolved. But as the situation went out of hand, he expressed his helplessness to the party’s central leaders. He told some of his close associates that his brother was not listening to him.
Sources in Awami League said that that in recent times no leader in the party had dared to make such criticism against the party, government and election system. But Quader Mirza has been doing that over the past one and a half months unhindered.
In the meantime, Noakhali district Awami League general secretary and MP Ekramul Karim Chowdhury has even termed Obaidul Quader’s family as a family of razakars (collaborators of the Pakistan forces during the Liberation War). No one paid much attention to that either. Ekram Chowdhury later apologised for his remark.
A certain central leader of the party feels that the Companiganj events are not only tarnishing the party’s image but also raising questions concerning the election system. He said that so far almost all those who Quader Mirza had targeted were followers of Obaidul Quader. He even criticised Obaidul Quader’s wife Ishatunnesa Quader. None of this seems quite normal.
The leader went on to say that in the past a prominent leader like Latif Siddiqui was immediately expelled for putting the party into an awkward situation. Haji Salim’s son had been arrested. If some of the allegations made by Mirza Quader are proven to be true, then action should be taken against the concerned persons as well. And if Mirza has another other motive, the party must look into that too, he said.
Secretary of Shushashoner Jonno Nagorik (Shujan), Badiul Alam Chowdhury, said that the civil society had long been saying the same things as Mirza Quader about the election irregularities. He told Prothom Alo, Quader Mirza has spoken out about many issues which the Awami League leaders cannot speak out about openly. This should be taken as a wake-up call. And the organisational issues that have been raised can be taken into consideration at Awami League’s party forum.
*This report appeared in the print and online edition of Prothom Alo and has been rewritten for the English edition by Ayesha Kabir