Parliament member Shafiqul, also the general secretary of Awami League Natore district unit, leads one factional group while another is led by the district president and four other lawmakers including the one for reserved seat.
The people's representatives at upazila and union levels are also clustered into the two factions.
Amid the situation, Awami League has fixed 21 November for holding the district unit convention. The convention would reshuffle the district unit committee that had expired its three-year tenure four years ago.
Tension has been very high as the two factional groups have taken to the field to drag each other down.
Awami League’s local sources said Natore-3 constituency lawmaker and state minister for information and communication technology Zunaid Ahmed Palak, Natore-1 lawmaker Shahidul Islam (Bakul), and women's reserved seat lawmaker, also the president of Mahila League district president Ratna Ahmed have joined hands with Natore-4 lawmaker and district president Abdul Quddus to counter their colleague Shafiqul.
Awami League district unit joint general secretary and Sadar upazila chairman Shariful Islam, joint general secretary Syed Mortaza Ali, organising secretary Abdul Malek Sheikh and Naldanga upazila chairman Asaduzzaman Asad are also in the faction.
Recently, the rivals of Shafiqul, in letters to prime minister Sheikh Hasina and other central leaders of Awami League, wrote against Shafiqul’s nepotism, amassment of illegal assets and plots to shelter the BNP-Jamaat supporters.
Shafiqul Islam, just after being elected as Awami League Natore district general secretary in November 2014, started to reign in the district unit and affiliated organisations by placing his preferable leaders in the top positions.
Rivalry between the two factions was revealed on 27 June during a virtual discussion.
In that event, Natore district president and parliament member Abdul Quddus alleged that he could not go to the district headquarters. For managing the organisational activities, he wanted to rent a house in Natore town. He also paid the house rent in advance. But the house owner returned the money following Shafiqul’s pressure.
A video of weeping Quddus, a former state minister and five times elected member of the parliament, went viral through social media. Awami League central working committee members discussed the Natore issue on 9 September.
In that meeting, some central leaders alleged that Shafiqul turned into a ‘demon’ in Natore. The meeting came up with a decision to hold the Natore district unit convention.
Awami League organising secretary for Rajshahi division SM Kamal Hossain told Prothom Alo that there are factions all over the country. However, councilors in the convention would elect their future leaders. After that, all would work unitedly.
Rise of Shafiqul spreads conflicts
Shankar Gobinda Chowdhury, the former district president, had led Awami League activities in Natore for long.
After his demise in 1995, Sajedur Rahman and Hanif Ali Sheikh became the district president and general secretary respectively. That time, Hanif Ali Sheikh was the main controller of Awami League in the district.
In 2008, Ahad Ali Sirker took charge as state minister for youth and sports ministry after being elected in the parliamentary election from the Sadar constituency.
After the demise of Hanif Ali Sheikh in 2011, Ahad Ali Sirker was made the acting general secretary. Ahad did not get a nomination for the 2014 parliamentary election.
That time, Shafiqul Islam, who led Juba League and Chhatra League earlier, came to the front.
He was elected uncontested for the parliament seat covering Sadar and Naldanga areas. In that year, he became general secretary of the Natore Awami League.
The party selected Abdul Quddus as president considering his seniority. And Shafiqul became the general secretary.
However, Shafiqul became active in showing his dominance within a few days. He deployed his family members and associates in different posts of Awami League’s grassroots units. As a consequence, his relation with other parliament members deteriorated.
State minister for information and communication technology Zunaid Ahmed Palak has been the parliament member for Singra constituency since 2008. Local political sources said, Zunaid was Shafiqul’s junior in Chhatra League. There is a personal clash between the two politicians.
Shafiqul did not keep Zunaid in any place of the district committee. Even the state minister cannot show off in the district-based party activities.
Gradually the distance between the two parliamentarians has widened. Rivalries between the two became visible before the 2019 upazila parishad election.
Party sources said that initially the district president Abdul Quddus maintained good relations with Shafiqul. However, he was cornered too by Shafiqul.
Prior to the upazila parishad election, relations of the duo deteriorated gravely. Amid the situation, Quddus developed an internal alliance with Zunaid Ahmed Palak.
Another parliamentarian from Natore Shahidul Islam (Bakul) was neutral earlier. He, too, locked into a conflict with Shafiqul prior to the upazila parishad election. Then Shahidul joined hands with Abdul Quddus.
Sadar upazila chairman Shariful Islam alias Ramjan was a contender, like Shafiqul, for Awami League Natore district general secretary post. They were the old rivals.
Naldanga upazila parishad chairman Asaduzzaman is also familiar as a rival of Shafiqul. They have played an important role in forming the anti-Shafiqul alliance.
The existing committees of the district as well as upazila units are dominated by the close associates of Shafiqul. Hence, Shafiqul also throws challenge against the four parliamentarians and other rivals.
Conflict over upazila parishad (UP) election
Natore sadar and Naldanga upazilas are under the jurisdiction of Shafiqul’s constituency. The ruling AL nominated two ‘anti-Shafiqul’ men Shariful Islam and Asaduzzaman for contesting UP election from these two upazilas respectively.
The party nominees won the election easily.
In Singra upazila, AL nominated Shafiqul Islam—a follower of district AL general secretary Shafiqul. But Adesh Ali Sardar who joined the AL from BNP contested the election as rival candidate as Local lawmaker Junaid Ahmed backed him.
On the other hand, MP Shafiqul Islam used all of his strength to ensure the victory of the party nominees, which intensifies the feud between lawmaker Shafiqul and Junaid.
When asked Junaid Ahmed said, since his name has not been placed in Natore district AL, he cannot make comments on AL district level politics. Siddiqur Rahman Patwary was the AL nominated chairman candidate in Baraigram upazila—an area of AL district president Abdul Kuddus.
However, the district president fielded Moazzem Hossain as the rival candidate and sought vote for him in an extended AL meeting. On the other, the district general secretary Shafiqul electioneered for the party nominee, Siddiqur Rahman Patwary, who finally won the election.
The conflict broke out in Baraigram politics yet again. On last Thursday, as soon as the chairman Siddiqur noticed the vehicle of lawmaker Abdul Kuddus, he threatened to set it afire. Later, Baraigram upazila AL issued a show-case notice to Siddiqur Rahman.
Similarly, the party nominee in Gurudaspur was backed by the district AL general secretary and won the election though the rival one supported by the district president.
Abdul Kuddus told Prothom Alo that it is known to all why and under what circumstances the support was given to rival candidates.
In Bagatipara upazila election, the general secretary of the upazila Sikandar Ali received party nomination—a follower of the lawmaker Shafiqul. However, the local parliamentarian Shahidul Islam fielded his brother Ohidul Islam as rival candidate who won the election defeating party nominee.
Sikandar Ali told Prothom Alo that he has been holding several posts in AL for 26 years. The lawmaker’s brother wasn’t active in politics. Even then, he [Sikandar] was forcibly defeated.
The conflict between Shafiqul and the rest of the parliamentarians affects the grassroots politics of Natore. Now all unions of Lalpur, Bagatipara, Gurudaspur and Baraigram upazilas have separate AL body of two factions who observe the party activities separately.
Family dragged into party
No family member of lawmaker Shafiqul was in AL post before he had become the general secretary of the district AL. Now, his wife Shamima Sultana Jannaty is the vice-president of district Mohila AL.
His elder brother Shariful Islam used to do politics with Jatiya Somajtrantrik Dal (JSD). Now he is a member of district AL and his wife Sima Parvin a vice-president of district Mohila AL.
Apart from this, their son’s father-in-law Zahurul Islam is the general secretary of AL sadar upazila. Sirajul Islam, another brother of the lawmaker, contested for counsellor post as BNP candidate in 2004 in Natore municipality election from ward no. 5 and defeated. Now, he is the treasurer of Natore municipality AL.
Shafiqul’s younger brother Sajidul Islam is a member of municipality Jubo League. His wife Sinthia Islam is the member of district Mohila AL.
Shafiqul’s sister Nasima Chowdhury is the treasurer of district Mohila AL. Her husband Sajedur Rahman is the member of district AL though his father Kurshed Alam Khan was one of founding figures of district BNP.
Another sister Najmin Islam is the organising secretary of district Mohila AL while her husband Amirul Islam is the treasurer of district AL. Their son Nafiul Islam has recently been expelled from the post of general secretary of municipality Swechchhasebak League.
Omar Sharif Chowhan is the Social Welfare Affairs secretary of district AL. He is the younger brother of Abdul Matin—Shafiqul’s elder brother-in-law.
“Natore was once a district of kings and queens. According to the custom, the members of the royal family would become the kings and queens who ruled the kingdom. District general secretary Shafiqul has followed this ancient tradition by placing family members on various committees of the party. We are proud of this. What more can I say about this?”
However, lawmaker Shafiqul Islam claimed that had he not been in the district AL general secretary post, his family members would have received more vital posts in AL committee.
Former BNP included in AL
Local leaders said Akramul Islam, once a close associate of BNP leader Ruhul Quddus Talukder, is now the district AL industry and commerce secretary.
Former district Tanti Dal general secretary Masudur Rahman is now the sports affair secretary of the district AL. Former district Sramik Dal joint general secretary Mansur Sarkar now is the member of Sramik League.
Former BNP leaders Maruf Arabia, Selim Hossain, Abdullah Hel Koyel, and Masud Rana now accompany the lawmaker Shafiqul Islam.
Natore sadar upazila AL chairman Shariful Islam said, “Those who suppressed us are now sharing chairs with AL leaders. That is painful for us.”
Shafiqul told Prothom Alo that he has done everything for the sake of party. He claimed that BNP-Jamaat can’t get out of home in Natore because of his firm stance. However, the BNP is holding programmes freely in the areas of other MPs of the district.
Local leaders said, no party leader did utter any word in last seven years fearing Shafiqul Islam. Now a strong faction has emerged as the four lawmakers and the top leaders make ties. The position of the anti-Shafiqul men in the fresh committee is likely to be strengthened.
In this case, there is a fear that the prolonged conflict over the exclusion of Shafiqul's family and relatives will be more intense.
The original report appeared in the print and online editions of Prothom Alo, has been rewritten in English by Sadiqur Rahman and NH Sajjad.