Abdul Latif Siddique, the eldest brother of the “notorious” Siddique family of Tangail, has made more headlines over the years for his arrogance and controversial actions than for his political enterprises.
Yesterday, post, telecommunications and information technology minister Latif was fired by President Abdul Hamid as a punishment for his widely criticised remarks about Hajj.
Although he had been elected parliament member five times with Awami League ticket and given two important portfolios over the last few years, his relation with the party had historically been bittersweet.
His tenure as the jute and textiles minister of the last Awami League government has been marked by allegations of widespread irregularities.
The Siddique family that practices a lot of power in Tangail, is often locally referred to as the “family of robbers.”
Straightforward or Arrogant?
On September 20, during a meeting of senior Awami League leaders and policymakers, Latif reportedly told party chief Sheikh Hasina: “Organisational activities are worthless. If you [Hasina] stay alive then everything will be fine. The party cannot do anything. You mean everything to us.”
On August 16 this year, in the presence of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina at a programme in the capital, he slammed the Awami League leaders and activists for not being present on the streets during a Jamaat-enforced hartal.
He said: “If anyone stages a hartal, [you] will have to enter their houses and kill them. Jamaat has called a hartal against a court verdict. Only police were there to face them on the streets. Our leaders and activists wait for instructions from the leader...Why would you need the PM’s instruction for everything? Do you wait for her order when you [illegally] become owners of houses and cars?”
On June 11, while discussing the budget in parliament, he announced out of the blue that he would not give up electoral politics; instead, he would try to implement party leader Sheikh Hasina’s instructions.
On April 19, he said in a seminar at the Jahangirnagar University: “The journalists always try to find my flaws...The electronic and print media of the country are nothing but paid servants of the businessmen and the so-called civil society.”
In March, he called an engineer of the Power Development Board (PDB) to his house in Tangail and beat him up. Just a few days later, he ordered an engineer of the Gazipur High-Tech Park to get down into the water of a fountain after he found that the water there was dirty.
In December 2012, Latif, who was then the jute and textiles minister, took on the organisers of a programme in the presence of Finance Minister AMA Muhith because he was not given the “due” respect.
“The finance minister was a freedom fighter. Am I not?” he said on that occasion.
In October 2009, he came down hard on the then parliament speaker and now President Abdul Hamid, who criticised MPs and ministers for remaining absent.
“The speaker is a servant of the parliament, not the master...Talent and wordplay are not the same,” he told the then speaker.
Veteran leader Md Bazlur Rahman Faruq, general secretary of Tangail district unit Awami League, told the Dhaka Tribune yesterday: “Those who always try to exert force on people can be perverted sometimes. I think Latif Siddique’s current predicament is an example of that.”
Awami League and Latif
When younger brother Kader Siddique was with the Awami League, Latif was not a front-row figure in the party. It was only after Kader left the Awami League to form his own party in the late 1990s, that Latif started gaining prominence.
Many Awami League leaders from Tangail alleged that Latif Siddique was not happy when Sheikh Hasina became the leader of the party in 1981. He even joined an offshoot of the Awami League out of discontent, but had to come back to the Awami League soon, they said.
However, when the Awami League was going through tough times during the regime of the army-backed caretaker government in 2007-08, the same Latif stood strongly in support of Hasina.
Many Awami League leaders believe that giving important party posts and ministries to Latif was meant for bringing a “balance.” After the departure of Kader Siddique, who was a very influential leader, the Awami League tried to fill in by bringing Latif to the front, they said.
Before the 1971 Liberation War, he was the general secretary of a local unit of Awami League’s student front Chhatra League. But he failed to hold on to his post.
During the war, he was a member of the fabled “Kaderia Bahini, named after his brother Kader Siddique. Allegedly, that armed group, alongside fighting in the Liberation War, forcefully occupied houses, staged robberies and were involved in other criminal activities. Local Awami League leaders from Tangail said their activities continued even after the war ended.
He first became a member of the Awami League central committee in 2002. In 2009 and 2012, he was twice elected member of the party presidium.
During the regime of military ruler HM Ershad, Latif was in jail. He was released in 1988 after his wife Laila Siddique became a female MP of the Ershad government. There are allegations that he accepted a house and a car from that government.
Veteran Awami League leader Faruq told the Dhaka Tribune yesterday: “There is no doubt that they [Latif and Kader] believe in the spirit of the Liberation War. But their stances have always been controversial. Often they act against the Awami League’s policies. That is harmful for the party.”
Nuh-ul-Alam Lenin, a member of Awami League presidium, said: “Kader Siddique’s role after the assassination of Bangabandhu can be questioned. [His brother] Latif Siddique issued a statement supporting the then Khondker Mushtaque Ahmed’s government after the assassination.”
Asked why then were they given important posts in the party, Lenin said: “The party leader gave them the posts. And now she has reached a realisation and has removed him [Latif].”
There are allegations that Latif Siddique misused his powers as the jute and textiles minister of the last Awami League government to privatise several state-run jute mills. He has also allegedly allotted government lands to private individuals going against law.
Reportedly, because of these and some other allegations, Latif’s portfolio had been changed to the post, telecom and IT ministry in the current Awami League government.
Being directed by the Prime Minister’s Office, the government has recently formed a high-powered probe body to look into these allegations.