General (Retd) H.M. Ershad passes away
Death is an inevitable phenomenon that happens to all mortals. Jatiya Party chief and former head of state H M Ershad, who breathed his last at a ripe old age of 89, will be remembered by his party colleagues as well as beneficiaries to whom he was a benefactor. But those who have a little bit of respect for Democracy will find it hard to forgive the despot for cogent reasons, one among which was that he overthrew the elected government of President Justice Abdus Sattar, a gentleman of unimpeachable character. The gravest harm that Lt. Gen. Ershad did was he bulldozed the edifice of the Bangladesh’s blossoming democracy.
In the 1988 poll, the Jatiya Party “won” 251 out of 300 parliamentary seats, partly because of the boycott but mostly because of blatant rigging. Derek Brown, who was the Guardian’s correspondent in the region at the time, witnessed fraud after fraud. Casual labourers were hired to give the impression that polling was brisk and orderly. [Vide the Guardian, 14 Jul 2019]
Every so often an object of contemptuous ridicule by the people all through since he unabashedly usurped power in 1982 and even after he was deposed in 1990, Jatiya Party chief Ershad sermed to enjoy his outlandish, unheard-of position in both the Government / Treasury bench and as the Opposition leader. After the 2014 election, Ershad became the Special Envoy of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina in the Awami League-led government. Though not in Bangladesh, but political scientists in the West will describe him as a tyrant who demolished the edifice of the Bangladesh’s nascent democracy. Not without reason, the eminent painter Quamrul Hasan sketched a portrait of Ershad and captioned it “Bishwa Behaya” (infamous shameless guy).
Though it may sound fair politics, Mrs. Rowshan Ershad possesses self-esteem and better moral principles than her husband. Rowshan officially sought the removal of the Jatiya Party ministers. The former first lady referred to PM Sheikh Hasina and said, “Remove our ministers. I am unable to understand whether we are in the government or the opposition party.”[Vide “Where is your resignation letter?”: en.bangla insider. com/bangladesh/ 1644/%E2%80%9C Where-is-your-resignation-letter% E2%80%9D, dated 01 March 2018].
An Indian columnist evaluates him thus: “A dictator has now departed from the Bangladesh political scene… An opportunist to the core, Ershad evinced interest in friendship with India to elicit support to come back to power. He maintained close liaison with back channel mediators to befriend India. Such attempts are seen to be for selfish reasons and only for his political goals.” [Shantanu Mukharji, The Statesman, Kolkata, July 17, 2019.]
Artful conniver Ershad had a liking for Indian government leaders, it seems. “He took pride in having attended the National Defence College (NDC) in New Delhi in 1975 and was a close friend of an IPS officer, the late Jaspal Singh, who had been Vadodra police commissioner. His party delegation visited India in 2017-18 meeting a number of institutions to impress upon them his significance in Bangladesh politics. Whenever needed, he would say that he was born in Coochbehar in India thus trying to signal his emotional proximity to India.” [Ibid]
Looking back, Justice Abdus Sattar was Vice President in President Zia’s cabinet; he was a former Supreme Court judge who held various constitutional and political office since the colonial British period and after the partition of the Subcontinent,. After the assassination of President Zia, in the participatory Presidential elections held on 15 November 1981 the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) candidate Justice Abdus Sattar won a landslide victory bagging 14,203,958 votes (65.5%); while his nearest Bangladesh Awami League candidate Dr. Kamal Hossain got 5,636,113 votes (26%). As independent candidate General (Retd) M. A. G. Osmani got 1.4%, Jatiya Samajtantrik Dal bagged 1.1% and NAP (M)-CPB candidate Muzaffar Ahmed got 1.0 perc ent votes.
Army Chief H.M. Ershad seized power toppling the popularly elected President Abdus Sattar on 24 April 1982 by imposing martial law and suspending the Constitution. Ershad served in the Presidential office until 1990 when a popular mass uprising led by future Prime Ministers Khaleda Zia and Sheikh Hasina deposed the former Army Chief H. M. Ershad from the Presidency.
Including President Zia, three others—Col. Ahsan, a Presidential guard and a police constable—were killed, but all the 18 officers who were in the killing mission were unscathed. No soldier joined the officers’ mission. Among the 29 convicts, 12 were sentenced to death by the Court-Martial trial under Army Act 31. Though the number of convicts in the death row was much more; nevertheless the then Army Chief Ershad granted clemency to 17 convicts. [Vide “Zia Hatyakanda Nilnakshar Bichar” (The Assassination of Zia; Blueprint of Legal Proceedings) by award-winning journalist Julfikar Ali Manik.] But Lt. Gen. Ershad—who was President from 1982 to 1990—did not initiate a trial of Zia murder.
It appears that repatriated Ershad’s goal was to physically eliminate freedom fighter officers. President Ziaur Rahman was assassinated in Chittagong on May 30, 1981; and two days later, General Manzur was murdered. Events and facts point to the planned killing of Manzur illustrate how top military leaders at the time desperately tried to bury the truth behind the Zia killing and how it helped the then Army Chief Gen. Ershad seize power.
Then Adjutant General of the Bangladesh Army, Maj. Gen. Moinul Hossain Chowdhury objected to a gross violation of the Army Act, hence he refused to sign the office order for the formation of the army’s court of inquiry into the assassination. Disregarding Moin’s refusal General Ershad signed the order himself. Gen. Chowdhury gives a graphic description of the whole shady affairs in his book. In this trial, three prosecutor senior officers—one brigadier and two lieutenant colonels—had been repatriated from Pakistan. In all, 33 officers were accused in the trial, but none among them was a repatriated officer. Even the repatriated officers who worked closely with Manzur were spared, even though the army’s court of inquiry had found the involvement of some repatriated officers in the mutiny. [Vide “Trial targeted freedom fighter officers”, Shakhawat Liton and Chaitanya Chandra Halder, the Daily Star, March 08, 2015]
As they say, to give someone his due, Ershad accomplished an important administrative reform during his ternure by introducing the Upazila system for devolution of power. Besides, Natioinal Drug Policy has done a major benefit to the citizens and has helped flourish the countrys pharmaceutical industry.