He could have been rather proud of his ability to make or break a regime. He should have at least relished his survival many years after his fall from the “heaven” of power. But now, in his 80s, Ershad’s hands are tied with an invisible rope which is tethered to Nazimuddin Road. He is fully aware of the consequence of the “betrayal” with his masters.
In 2014, Ershad regretted frequent shifts in his political stance, saying he was not a free man. So what he said, or rather admitted, did not necessarily reflect his views. Now could he recall that he had compelled someone at gunpoint in 1982 to say what he was not willing to say?
In a recorded address to the nation on March 24, 1982, the then president Justice Abdus Sattar said it had been essential to proclaim martial law in the country. Cabinet Secretary Keramat Ali was directed to ask the president at Bangabhaban to read out the speech authored by Ershad’s collaborators to justify his usurpation.
During his rule in the 1980s, he used to claim that his hands were not drenched in blood. Assuming he was right, history has done justice to him by not seeing him as a victim of the bloodshed during or soon after his downfall. His name is also associated with allegations of some political killings.
Interestingly, the first court verdict against him after 1990 was related to the possession of firearms. He used firearms on a different occasion nine years ago – to force president Sattar to relinquish his office. In a turnaround of political events, today Ershad has by his side JSD leader Hasanul Haque Inu as an ally who sued him in 1991 for hijacking state power.
Ershad resorted to political adventurism by deciding to boycott the 10th parliamentary elections held on January 5. One of the vocal student leaders of the 1980s who led the anti-autocracy movement told me that they might have forgiven Ershad had he stuck to this “moral” position at this stage of his life. He befooled everyone, including himself.
He could have smiled a bit seeing the quality of governance in the aftermath of his rule. He might argue that the “prime ministerial” form of government, reintroduced after his exit, was no better than the presidential system which was blamed for encouraging autocracy. He may also think that he is not the only ruler who faced allegations of killing and displayed “shamelessness” to stay in power.
Ershad’s Jatiya Party (JP) contributed to the formation of the government and electoral victory of the AL in 1996 and 2008 respectively. He had the credit of postponing for two years the elections scheduled for January 2007 when his nomination paper was cancelled.
The man who assassinated the characters of many politicians managed to make the entire process of the one-sided elections on January 5 more controversial by announcing his withdrawal from the race. Ultimately he had to pay some price and land in a virtual jail at CMH before the polls. And again, from captivity, he has been made a part of the AL-led grand alliance government of democratic deficiency.
He has lost control over the JP parliamentary party. For quite a number of years, the JP looked divided into two streams – pro-AL leaders and pro-BNP leaders. The irony of fate is that others are now doing to him what he did to others during the formation of the party.
However, the biggest casualty of the January 5 elections, to date, is the JP. The party, which once had command over up to 10% of all votes, has been razed to the ground in the ongoing upazila polls. It won only two upazila chairman posts so far out of 210. Who would say that it was during Ershad’s reign when the upazila or sub-district system was introduced?
Still, Ershad has no regret in public. The Sheikh Hasina-led government addressed his major worry. Delivery of the judgment on the General Manzur murder case against him has recently been deferred once again. What else could he expect from the government which has given him freedom in exchange for alignment with it? He should appreciate it even if there is political blackmailing, just for the sake of impunity.
Nobel Laureate poet Pablo Neruda died 12 days after General Augusto Pinochet had overthrown Chile’s elected president Salvador Allende in 1973. His aides called it a murder. His body was exhumed last year. Officials claimed that he was not poisoned. But hardly anyone seemed to be convinced about it, for Neruda, critical of the coup, was planning to go into exile before his sudden death.
Is Ershad smarter than Pinochet?
A bicyclist ruler in his early days, Ershad emerged as a poet and lyricist and started patronising other poets. He was not found writing any longer once he had more leisure time outside the realm of power. Poems bid him goodbye, according to him, for his fear of going to jail. Critics have never believed this poet.