Late in the evening of November 20, six men, including two Awami League MPs, assembled at a corner table in a lounge of a high-end hotel in Dhaka’s upmarket Gulshan neighbourhood.
Only hours earlier, one of the two MPs was in attendance at a formal function at Ganabhaban where he, along with Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, unveiled a five-volume publication titled ‘Moron Sagarpare Tomra Amar’ written on Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman and his family members who were assassinated on August 15, 1975.
While Sheikh Hasina wrote the preface to the edited volumes, the publication was edited by former Dhaka University Vice-Chancellor Professor A A M S Arefin Siddiqui.
“It is very important for the new generation to know the authentic history of the Liberation War,” Sheikh Hasina said at the function, while the Awami League MP, Mohammad Ali Arafat, stood respectfully at one side, a gentle smile on his face. Considered close to Sheikh Hasina and her family, Arafat was elected as an Awami Leaue MP from Gulshan parliamentary constituency in July this year.
But later that same evening, Arafat was in the company of his party colleague, Nahim Razzaq, the son of Abdul Razzak, an iconic ‘old guard’ Awami League leader, and four other persons, including Abdul Awal Mamun, General Secretary of Kalyan Party. Northeast News has in its possession evidence of this meeting.
The Kalyan Party was formed in the immediate aftermath of the events of November 1, 2007, when the Bangladesh army took power for nearly two years before paving the way for elections under a caretaker government. It is headed by Major General (retd) Sayyed Muhammad Ibrahim.
At that time, the Kalyan Party, said to be backed by Bangladesh’s Directorate General of Forces Intelligence (DGFI) and the security agency of another country, earned itself the moniker of a ‘King’s Party’, an expression that was used – and continues to be used – to describe political outfits that would “come to the rescue” of the ruling regime whenever “expediency” or other considerations demanded such support.
That late evening of November 20, Arafat, Razzak and Mamun tied up the loose ends of an “understanding” and finalised the details of a plan to bring the Kalyan Party within the larger fold of a Joint Front that would also include the Jatiya Party (Ershad) led by G M Qader. Incidentally, the Jatiya Party (Ershad), after some initial feet-dragging, also declared today to be part of the Joint Front.
A third outfit, a small breakaway faction of the Jatiya Party (Naziur), also threw in its lot with the newly formed front that will now be projected as an ally of the Awami League just so that their participation in the election, whose initial process has run into controversies, helps in the propagation of the idea that polls will be “participative”.
Besides the Jatiya Party (Ershad) and the three outfits that pledged to be part of the Joint Front, the other partners of the Awami League, as of today, include the Trinamool BNP and the Bangladesh Nationalist Movement (BNM). The last two were, till recently, part of the principal BNP’s 14-party alliance, but by most accounts do not have much political clout or following.
Enquiries by Northeast News revealed that Mamun has an Islami Chhatra Shibir background. The Shibir is the students’ wing of the Jamaat-e-Islami (JeI) which continues to function as an outfit without being a registered political party, a status which it lost in 2013.
Political sources in Dhaka said that it is “unlikely that Mamun’s formative political background as a Shibir cadre would not be known to the Awami League in general and Arafat in particular”. Mamun is not a well-known figure in Bangladesh’s murky and fractious politics but it took him just two years to become the Kalyan Party’s general secretary.
Speaking to Northeast News, Maj Gen (retd) Ibrahim admitted that Mamun has a Shibir backround. “Yes, Yes,” he said. When asked whether Mamun’s Shibir background would be acceptable to the Awami League, Maj Gen (retd) Ibrahim said, “That is a question I cannot answer”.
Responding to a question whether the polls will be successfully conducted (on January 7), Maj Gen (retd) Ibrahim said, “Elections will take place whatever the circumstances, good or bad, maybe.”