• Saturday, December 7, 2019

Ershad & his controversial roles in Bangladeshi politics

Discussion in 'Bangladesh Defence Forum' started by Riyad, Jul 18, 2019.

  1. Riyad


    Jul 30, 2015
    +1 / 1,636 / -6
    Ershad was a military and political figure who had a doubtful role in 1971 war. He did not participate in the war nor did he was against the war, neither he supported Pakistan army also. He remained silent and moved to West Pakistan and remained there throughout the war what he called 'Prison'.

    He used religion for political gain. Changed constitution to add state religion, made Friday holiday but his life had no shadow of religion.

    Hasina and Khaleda both fought together against Ershad in late 80's. He made two rival ladies fought together for same cause for the first and last time. Ershad was imprisoned during Khaleda's tenure. Now Khaleda is in jail. Ershad was the most happiest person for Khaleda's jail terms.

    Death of Ershad evokes memories of a dictator who repressed and reshaped Bangladesh

    Sumon Mahmud, Chief Political Correspondent, bdnews24.com

    Published: 14 Jul 2019 11:12 AM BdST Updated: 14 Jul 2019 06:35 PM BdST

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    The ‘autocrat’ tag is used for only one politician in Bangladesh who is none other than HM Ershad, and his death has brought the curtain down on the life of a brutal dictator and a shrewd politician who repressed and reshaped Bangladesh for nearly three decades.

    From being the most powerful man in the country to the subject of jokes, he introduced many dark trends like usurping power. After his fall in a mass uprising in 1990, he deftly played his cards to survive and thrive in treacherous political waters with a generous sprinkling of spectacle.

    While many generals in other countries reigned over military juntas only to fall by the wayside and suffer humiliation, or even assassination or death penalty, Ershad's transformation from a deposed military ruler to an elected politician enjoying government facilities for decades in an astonishing turn of events should spellbind the historians.

    In cartoonist Kamrul Hasan’s famous works, Ershad has been depicted as a “Biswa Behaya” or the “Most Shameless Person of the World” for his controversial decisions after usurping power, but to his supporters, mostly in northern Bangladesh, Ershad was the “King” or “Hero”.


    Their undulated love for Ershad made him “Pollibondhu” or the “Friend of Rural People”, outweighing his financial scams, trysts with women, capricious decision-making, and switch of sides.
    The Jatiya Party chairman, who has been on life support for the last 10 days, breathed his last at the Combined Military Hospital in Dhaka around 7:45am on Sunday, according to Sunil Subho Roy, the party chairman's political and press secretary.

    The 90-year-old deposed military dictator has been suffering from myelodysplastic syndrome or a low-level of haemoglobin in his blood for long. He was diagnosed with lung infection and kidney ailment.

    Born on Feb 1, 1930 in the Cooch Bihar district of West Bengal in India, Ershad with the nickname “Peyara” spent his childhood there and later after the Partition had his early education at his hometown – Rangpur in Bangladesh.

    Graduating in 1950, he was commissioned in the Pakistan Army in 1952. He had served as an adjutant in the East Bengal Regimental Centre in Chittagong, the brigade major of 54 Brigade in Sialkot, commander of the 3rd East Bengal Regiment and the 7th East Bengal Regiment, and sector commander of the East Pakistan Rifles or EPR.


    He was in West Pakistan as what he said as “a prisoner” during the 1971 Liberation War through which East Pakistan separated itself to become Bangladesh, but many have questioned his role, citing his visit to Bangladesh during the war.

    After his repatriation from Pakistan to Bangladesh, Ershad was appointed adjutant general of the Bangladesh Army in 1973 following recommendation by his uncle Reazuddin Ahmed Bhola Mia, a state minister of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman’s government, Liberation War Sector Commander Rafiqul Islam wrote in his book.

    Ershad was promoted to the rank of colonel in 1973 and then to brigadier in June 1975. The same year, he attended a defence course at National Defence College, India, where he stayed until after the Aug 15, 1975 assassination of Bangabandhu.


    Ziaur Rahman, who became the centre of power and army chief at the time and eventually the first military ruler of Bangladesh, brought Ershad back and promoted him to the rank of major general, appointing him the deputy chief of army staff.

    He was made the Chief of Army Staff in December 1978 and promoted to the rank of Lieutenant General in 1979.

    Ershad’s elevation by Zia did not go well with the freedom-fighter army officers, however.

    Lt Col MA Hamid, who had once been close to Zia, wrote in his book that Zia had installed Ershad to the post next to his to thwart his rivals. Zia thought he would turn a harmless Ershad into his most docile obligé.


    Zia promoted Ershad to army chief after becoming president, but leaders of the BNP founded by Zia now believe the move proved suicidal as it was Ershad who brought an abrupt end to Zia's politics.

    Zia's wife BNP Chairperson Khaleda Zia alleges that Ershad had been behind the failed coup in which her husband was assassinated at Chittagong Circuit House on May 30, 1981.

    Until his death, Ershad was accused of the killing of Major General MA Manzur, who led the failed coup against Zia. The verdict in a case over the killing of Gen Manzur is yet to be delivered.

    After Zia's death, Ershad started showing his true colours, usurping state power on Mar 24, 1982 by toppling elected president Justice Abdus Sattar in a bloodless coup.


    Ershad declared himself the Chief Marital Law Administrator, suspending the constitution and dissolving the parliament and the council of ministers appointed by Sattar.
    He also proclaimed himself commander-in-chief of the armed forces, a constitutional post held by the elected president. He announced that the future martial law regulations, orders and instructions would be the country's supreme law, and sections of other laws inconsistent with them would be null and void.

    Ershad installed Justice Abul Fazl Mohammad Ahsanuddin Chowdhury as president of Bangladesh, but Justice Chowdhury was merely a puppet with no authority as the marital law proclamation categorically mentioned that the president would not exercise any power or perform any function without the advice or approval of the CMLA.

    General Ershad ruled the country as the CMLA for another year and then took over the presidency on Dec 11, 1983, a move ruled illegal by the High Court later.

    Following the path shown by his "guru" Zia, Ershad continued leaving his footsteps in Bangladesh's politics. At first he backed a political party called the Janadal, but later formed his own party - Jatiya Party - with devious leaders from the Awami League and the BNP. He headed the Jatiya Party until his death.


    Ershad made significant changes to the local government system by introducing Upazila in 1984 and candidates of his party won almost all chairman seats in the first elections to the Upazila Parishads or councils in May 1985.
    He was elected to the presidency for a five-year term in October 1986 as a nominee of the Jatiya Party which he had established in the same year.

    His election, however, was marred by the absence of leading political parties having anything to do with it, which Sheikh Hasina describes as a "vote of goons".

    Meanwhile, a student movement against Ershad started to build up. In 1983, several students, including Zafar, Joynal, and Dipali Saha, died in the firing on demonstrations. The following year, police killed Selim and Delwar by running a truck over demonstrating students.

    In the face of suppression, the movement became fiercer, joined by workers. Noor Hossain and many others sacrificed their lives as Ershad ruthlessly tamed the protests.


    Pressured by students and professionals, the political parties got their acts together in the movement against Ershad. The Awami League took part in the 1986 elections, but joined all others to boycott the 1988 ballot.
    The anti-Ershad movement picked pace after the elections and peaked in 1990. After the killings of Bangladesh Medical Association leader Dr Shamsul Alam Milon and student leader Jehad, Ershad announced his resignation on Dec 4 that year following widespread movement. Two days later, he stepped down by transferring powers to Justice Shahabuddin Ahmed, who was appointed vice-president with consent of the three main political blocs.

    As democracy started a new journey in Bangladesh though the elections under the government of Justice Shahabuddin, who later became president, Ershad found himself in jail, facing a hoard of corruption charges in a number of cases.

    But his loyalists and die-hard supporters in his stronghold Rangpur stunned the nation by handing him victory in five parliamentary seats from the northern region - a position Ershad still enjoys there thanks to the bitter rivalry between the Awami League and the BNP.


    Both parties used Ershad's support in different elections and movements, keeping him under control by reviving and freezing about four dozen cases against him at opportune times.
    Ershad took the reins of his Jatiya Party again from his wife Raushon Ershad after being released on Jan 9, 1997 during the Awami League regime.

    The Jatiya Party suffered a number of splits afterwards. Ershad finally led the main Jatiya Party faction to forge the Grand Alliance with the Awami League, an uneasy coalition that survived distrust.

    After the 2014 elections boycotted by the BNP, the Jatiya Party became the official opposition in parliament, Raushon became the leader of the official opposition and Ershad was made the special envoy of Prime Minister Hasina.

    The Jatiya Party retained the position as the official opposition in parliament after the last general election. Ershad then became the leader of the official opposition in parliament, a post he held until his death.


    Ershad's fans show infrastructure development as the main achievement of his nine-year rule but his critics say Ershad was interested in building roads and bridges as it was easy to embezzle money from these projects.
    Ershad's creation of Upazila is grudgingly praised by many, while many others see it as just his tool to fulfil his political ambitions.

    Ershad is also criticised for introducing Islam as state religion in the constitution, a move considered to have significantly changed Muslim-majority Bangladesh's secular fabric, but no government afterwards dared to change it.

    Ershad liked to introduce himself as a poet. His works were broadcast by state media when he was in power, but many have their doubts that these were his own.

    Ershad's relations with different women still feed political discourse. He, however, said it was women who came to him.

    He then married Bidisha, daughter of a poet, as he continued to create scandals over his relations with women. Ershad has one son with Raushon and another with Bidisha.

    ফাইল ছবি

    Recently, he formed and donated all his properties to a trust.
    A director of the Union Bank, Ershad said in an affidavit submitted to the Election Commission before the polls by the end of last year that he has Tk 2.8 million in cash, Tk 440 million invested in shares, and Tk 92 million in savings certificates and fixed deposits.

    With the ownership of two flats at Gulshan and Baridhara and three cars, his annual earning was shown to be Tk 10.7 million.

    Known as the "Rich President of a Poor Country" to the world, Ershad enjoyed doing different things like cycling to office and offering prayers at different mosques when he was in power.


    Besides his interests in playing golf, he described himself as the "Father of Bangladesh's Cricket".
    Ershad was always in political discussions, especially during elections, for changing decisions every now and then.

    Many take it for humour but he said he had to change decisions with pain in his mind.

    He once said he will reveal everything about it when the time comes. Well, his time is up and the rest is untold history.

    Ershad: A quick look back

    Toufique Imrose Khalidi, bdnews24.com

    Published: 14 Jul 2019 05:42 PM BdST Updated: 14 Jul 2019 06:03 PM BdST

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    Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s customary condolence message sums up part of Gen Ershad, more in unspoken words than what’s written in the text: she referred to his “constructive role” as leader of the official opposition in Parliament.

    She could not have said less or more than that. In the 1980s, for nearly nine years, Hasina and her loyal supporters led the campaign, along with BNP chief Khaleda Zia, against the military ruler who reigned with unlimited power relying on deceit, lies, religion peddling and cosmetic ‘development’. He came with a promise to fight corruption but remorselessly institutionalised it, with deeper ramifications than his lucky predecessor, Gen Zia.

    Both followed the same path and style in consolidating power and trying to prolong it. Both gave birth to political parties while still in uniform-clad government service; both created a class of cronies, both relied on religion without really much faith in it, both lent support to 1971 and 1975 killers and allowed them to flourish, in politics as well as in other aspects of public life.

    On 24 March 1982, many of us clearly remember, he launched himself as head of government sitting in the chair of the chief of army staff and began with a set of lies — that included a frail President Sattar, elected through a poll of sorts in December 1981 (just months after the killing of Gen Zia) handed the baton of state power to him because of unbridled corruption in his cabinet of cronies — almost all of whom had served Zia’s cabinet. (Remember he would keep a photo of Zia on a table next to his chair while having meetings with dignitaries, trying to tell Zia loyalists that he was only carrying forward the late general’s agenda.)

    In a public rally at Gulistan, this writer heard “President Sattar” say in the presence of the likes of still-housewife Khaleda Zia, Kazi Zafar Ahmed, Serajul Hossain Khan that he was forced to step aside. Kazi Zafar, who in his characteristic theatrical tone, addressed the usurped head of state as the President. Serajul Hossain Khan went a step further, calling him “tui” and various names and challenging him to a political career sans uniform. Both, in later years, became his very loyal and subservient ministers, so did many other Awami League and BNP stalwarts.

    Ershad, too, tried to make politics difficult as his dictator predecessor did. One must give him some credit for this — he truly exposed the true colours of many falsely celebrated politicians, right and left. The general would go to mosques on Fridays and announce in the presence of devotees that he had received divine instructions in dreams the previous night to come to that particular mosque. His security officers knew how big a lie that was on every occasion. The officers had to do their routine checks days before. The university students in the 1980s would find it difficult to forgive him. He did things that prolonged their student life; this writer, for one, lost four years for no fault of his own. Yes, Ershad’s senseless, mindless and remorseless acts gave student activism a different character. The nation, just 10 years after the glorious 1971 days, witnessed, again, sacrifice, bravery by students across Bangladesh. His Notun Bangla Chhatra Samaj, later renamed as Jatiya Chhatra Samaj, despite all support from his cronies in military intelligence and police, made no sense in student politics. He succeeded in buying the services of a few big names in student movement at various stages but they all turned out to be useless.

    He killed students throughout his nine years in power but kept claiming he had no blood in his hands. Many of those heroes, unfortunately, remained unsung and are mostly forgotten today as Ershad celebrated his return to mainstream politics to a point where both major parties competed to secure the once-hated military ruler’s support. His triumphant return in all five parliamentary seats in 1991 just weeks after a disgraceful exit from state power was baffling. He will be remembered for many things — one being his “cancel my last announcement”, drawn from the acronym of his official title ‘chief martial law administrator’ or CMLA. His civil servants in the early 1980s knew of this habit of his, but in later years as an opposition politician he would display more of such antics more frequently.

    Zia’s BNP survived in some style far longer than probably expected, riding on being an anti-Awami League platform for a motley crowd of haters, but one will be curious to see how far Ershad’s Jatiya Party, born and bred in similar fashion, can go after his departure from the stage.

    Toufique Imrose Khalidi is the Editor-in-Chief of bdnews24.com