Tension within the Awami League has been brewing for quite some time as established party leaders and MPs are trying to muscle out their grassroots opponents, who have been attempting to mount their campaigns to get the ruling party’s nod for the general election slated for next year or early 2024.
Party stalwarts are worried that the infighting may cause the Awami League a great deal of harm in the vote.
The consequences of such infighting were reflected in the Union Parishad polls last year, as more than 1,500 independent chairman candidates, out of 4,500 chairman seats up for grabs, snatched victories from the ruling party-backed candidates.
Most of these independent candidates, labelled by the party as rebels, were former Awami League grassroots leaders.
A member of the party’s Presidium, Awami League’s premier policymaking body, conceded that elected MPs are at loggerheads with the grassroots leader almost in every constituency.
By distributing patronages, the Presidium member said, many Awami League MPs have created their circles of trust with their family members and by “letting politicians, who follow the ideals of BNP and Jamaat-e-Islami, to call the Awami League their home.”
“We have already received a good number of allegations against some MPs for engaging themselves in the ‘commerce of nomination,’ and it will be on our agenda in the next meeting,” said the Presidium member, who did not want to reveal his identity due to sensitivity of the matter.
But Kazi Zafarullah, a senior member of the Presidium, did not shy away from sharing his concern on the record when he was approached by bdnews24.com.
“The activities of some MPs have become a real headache,” he rued.
His concerns may be grounded in his experience. According to sources, the independent MP from Zafarullah’s constituency has somewhat politically cornered him.
THE ‘MP LEAGUE’?
However, some top leaders dismissed the concerns, by saying these skirmishes between leaders are just “friendly competitions”.
An ever-optimistic Obaidul Quader, the party’s second-in-command, believes leaders will unite and forget about these infightings during election season.
Grassroots leaders and activists, however, do not share the same optimism.
According to them, they are being “held as hostages by the MP League”.
For instance, the fistfight that took place between Razee Mohammad Fakhrul, the lawmaker from Cumilla-4, and Debidwar Upazila Chairman Abul Kalam Azad in Dhaka’s Parliament Members’ Club on Jul 16 had turned into a full-blown war in their respective area. Followers of Razee, a member of Cumilla North unit of the party, and Azad, organising secretary of the same unit, faced off against each other.
The situation was so dire that some central leaders, including Joint General Secretary Md Mahbub Ul Alam Hanif, had to intervene to settle the dispute.
Though the unit’s General Secretary Roshan Ali Master said the two leaders at loggerheads were able to resolve their issues between themselves, grassroots leaders in Debidwar said things will escalate soon again as Azad is vying for a nomination from the party to stand in the polls to Cumilla-4 constituency and the latest instance was a stress-test of gaining some grounds to that end.
THE BATTLEGROUND CONSTITUENCIES
The party has identified several constituencies where infighting between MPs and grassroots leaders has heightened in recent months.
Those are Patuakhali-3 represented by SM Shahjada; Mymensingh-1, where Jewel Areng is the incumbent; Rajshahi -1 which is held by Omar Faruk Chowdhury; Tangail-2 represented by Tanvir Hasan; Natore-2, where Shafiqul Islam Shimul is the incumbent; Noakhali-4 represented by Ekramul Karim Chowdhury; Tangail-1 represented by Mohammad Abdur Razzaque; Chandpur-3, held by Dipu Moni; and Cumilla-11, where Mujibul Haque Mujib is the incumbent.
THE STRANGE CASE OF KAZI ZAFARULLAH
Being elevated to the Awami League Presidium is a huge honour for any party leader, as it is considered an all-powerful position.
A 20-year veteran of the forum, Kazi Zafarullah does not see it that way. “The grassroots leaders do not have the depth to go toe-to-toe with MPs as the latter group has seized all the powers. It’s a ‘clash of interest’,” he said.
His political history tells a different story though.
Zafarullah was defeated in consecutive general elections by an independent candidate, Mujibur Rahman Chowdhury Nixon, a so-called rebel from the Awami League in the Faridpur-5 constituency.
Their nine-year-old rivalry has become the stuff of legend and one of the most hotly debated political topics in the area.
When approached, Nixon, known for his bravado stump speeches, said whenever he attempts to unite the local ruling party units, Zafarullah butts in and somehow ruins the effort.
He painted a detailed picture of how Zafarullah's meddling has caused the party dearly in recent times.
“Only three out of 24 candidates he selected for Union Parishad chairmanship contest won the polls. One of the three winners pledged his loyalty to me afterwards,” he said.
Defending his choices, Zafarullah said: “I'm working with true Awami League workers. That guy [Nixon] is playing fast and loose with people he recruited from other parties.”
STALWARTS STILL HOPEFUL
Central party leaders, who agreed to speak on the record for this report, conceded that some conflicts are there. But they categorically said these conflicts will be resolved as the election nears.
General Secretary Obaidul Quader said: “The Awami League had always dealt with these issues. The party will unite as soon as the general election is at hand,” he said.
Joint General Secretary Hanif has been tasked by the party to quarterback the process of resolving these quandaries.
“We've started organising local councils to resolve these conflicts. Whatever is left, I'm hopeful we'll be able to fix these before the general election."
Central Organising Secretary SM Kamal Hossain posited the “friendly competition” theory.
“It’s common that nomination seekers will compete with incumbents to get the party’s approval. It’s a friendly competition. But after the nominations are finalised, party leaders and activists work in tune under Awami League President Sheikh Hasina’s leadership.
[Writing in English by Adil Mahmood]