Noakhali Awami League: Central leaders’ silence questioned

Noakhali Awami League: Central leaders’ silence questioned

Prothom Alo illustration

There has been political tension, conflict and clashes over the past two and a half months in Companiganj, Noakhali and two people, including a journalist, were even killed in the violence. Yet the ruling Awami League remains mysteriously silent about the matter. Most central leaders of the party find this silence to be abnormal. They even find this to be an abysmal failure in party discipline.

Several leaders at Awami League’s policymaking level said that this violence at the grassroots could have easily been resolved by means of organisational and administrative measures. But no effective action was taken from any level of the party. The common people are questioning why no measures are being taken from the centre to resolve this issue. Even Abdul Quader Mirza, the source of the problem, himself is questioning why the central leaders are not speaking out.

Even three weeks ago Prothom Alo questioned several central leaders of Awami League about the matter. No one wanted to be named. They all said, this is the party general secretary Obaidul Quader’s matter.

But what was the result of just remaining silent? Two people gave their lives. Who will take responsibility for this?

A Minister

On Wednesday, this correspondent spoke to three presidium members of Awami League, five of the party’s secretaries and three members of the cabinet. They said that this incident had taken place at the party’s general secretary’s district his own constituency and his family is involved. That is why they are unwilling to talk about this openly.

And if there are killings or the matter becomes national news, then various agents of the government become active. Cases are filed, arrests are made. But in the case of Noakhali, none of this has happened

The leaders are also confused as to why the party head Sheikh Hasina is not taking a sterner stance on the issue. In the past, much more serious and complicated issues were easily resolved.

The leaders pointed to instances in the past where such conflicts were brought under control. They said, when violence erupts over factional clashes of the party in any district or upazila, the party’s concerned organising secretary and other central leaders go to the district and try to resolve the differences between the conflicting groups. If that does not yield results, the local leaders are summoned to Dhaka. The party’s central general secretary and leaders organise a meeting and explain matters to these local leaders or issue them a stern warning. If this does not work, the committee is dissolved. And if there are killings or the matter becomes national news, then various agents of the government become active. Cases are filed, arrests are made. But in the case of Noakhali, none of this has happened. No organisational action has been taken.

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Around two and a half months ago, Abdul Quader Mirza first began by criticising family and local leaders. He also raised questions about the national and local election system. Many of the central leaders saw this as his strategy to win the municipality election. But then he went a step further, accusing district and central leaders by name, of extortion, taking bribes for postings and corrupt political practices. He even accused his brother Obaidul Quader of patronising them.

A minister, speaking to Prothom Alo on Wednesday on condition of anonymity, said if all of Quader Mirza’s accusations are true, then the party should taken initiative to rectify these matters. And if the accusations are false, then a public statement should be made to clear up the issue. He said that the steps in accordance to the party’s constitution could have been taken by now against Quader Mirza and other leaders involved in the conflict. But what was the result of just remaining silent? Two people gave their lives. Who will take responsibility for this?

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He says, this has sent a message to the party men all around the country that the Noakhali incident has instigation from within the party. Or else, the party wants to cover up something.

Awami League’s presidium member Kazi Zafrullah, speaking to Prothom Alo, said this matter is of party general secretary Obaidul Quader’s area. He has been given the responsibility to resolve the issue and that is why they are not bothering about the matter.

At the regular press briefing held at his residence, Obaidul Quader on Wednesday said that those involved in the disorder at Companiganj will be brought under the law, regardless of their identity. He said the matter has been discussed with the home minister, the inspector general of police, the RAB director general, the Chattogram range DIG of police and the district administration. The law will apply to all equally.

While delivering a speech on 31 December last year, Quader Mirza had said if the election would free and fair, many MPs of Noakhali wouldn’t even find the time to flee. The Basurhat municipal election was held on 16 January. Even after the election, Quader Mirza continued with his vitriolic statements. On 19 February, clashes broke out between the groups of Quader Mirza and upazila Awami League organising secretary and former upazila chairman Mizanur Rahman alias Badal. Local journalist Borhan Uddin Muzakkir hit by a bullet during the clashes and later died while undergoing treatment in Dhaka.

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Awami League doesn’t seem to have any answers

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In the evening the next day, Noakhali district Awami League informed the media by means of a press release that a letter had been sent to the party’s central committee, recommending that Quader Mirza be relieved of all duties of the party. Two hours after the press release, the district Awami League president AHM Khairul Anam Chowdhury called up the journalists by phone to inform them that the decision to expel Quader Mirza had been withdrawn. However, district Awami League general secretary and Noakhali Sadar MP Ekramul Karim Chowdhury said the recommendation for expulsion had not been withdrawn. Three weeks since then, on Tuesday, clashes and firing broke out again between the two sides and another man, Alauddin, was killed. There has been intermittent clashes between the two sides between the two incidents.

All the while, local MP and the party’s general secretary, Obaidul Quader, has not said anything on the issue. Even Quader Mirza, at a press briefing on Monday, said, “I do not know why our national leaders are remaining silent.” Two and a half hours after that, Obaidul Quader posted up some pictures on Facebook with the status, “No one knows the reason behind my silence.”

According to Awami League’s constitution, the district committee had recommend expulsion. However, it is for the central committee to decide whether to approve of that or not. Or, the central committee at any time can expel or release anyone. None of this had happened in the case of Noakhali.

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Policemen deployed at important spots in Basurhat, Companiganj, Noakhali

An Awami League presidium member told Prothom Alo, the party is riddled with infighting all over the country. Broadly speaking, there are certain reasons behind this. These are, fights over getting nomination in the local government elections, competing for party posts and positions, share in development work contracts, and so on.

The Awami League leaders are unclear about what is the cause of conflict in Noakhali. Behind the scenes, the central leaders are keeping in contact with the respective leaders of their liking in the district. This is complicating the matter further. The Noakhali incident is no long restricted to local conflict. This presidium member sees no solution to the matter other than intervention by party chief Sheikh Hasina.

* This report appeared in the print and online edition of Prothom Alo and has been rewritten for the English edition by Ayesha Kabir

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