They were all men drawn to Hussein Muhammad Ershad as moths are drawn to a flame. They were lured by a promise of power or at the very least a place in the sun. Many among them were opportunists of the highest order; many others were not unduly worried about morality. And there were some who genuinely believed that by being with Ershad they could contribute their talent and experience to the development, as they saw it, of the country.
And then, once the dictator fell from power, many of these men and women walked away from him. People he had raised to the heights turned their faces away from him, would not touch him with a barge pole and thus would demonstrate the ingratitude that has since time immemorial defined a large tract of human nature. Did that upset General Ershad? Obviously it did. Again, there were all the people, in an earlier time, who Ershad himself showed his back to, people he ought to have stayed loyal to or defended in the spirit of friendship or acquaintance. Was he, following his fall from the slippery slopes of power, then getting his comeuppance?
We will let the question be and instead step inside the world of those he lifted to the dizzying heights of office before they betrayed him when he needed them most or before he dumped them. No, M. Korban Ali and Capt (retd) Abdul Halim Chowdhury did not undermine him. They simply died, having turned their backs on their parties, the Awami League and the BNP, in order to be ministers in the Ershad dispensation.
A remarkable political seducer, Ershad appointed the veteran politician Ataur Rahman Khan prime minister in his regime. Nine months later, he was dispensed with. He would subsequently write a book on his experience. Then there was Mizanur Rahman Chowdhury, a reputed Awami Leaguer, who took the job of prime minister. Manhandled at the Central Shaheed Minar by anti-Ershad political activists, he was soon out of office. Towards the end of his life he came back to the Awami League. He was a diminished man.
Shah Moazzem Hossain spouted obscenities about Khaleda Zia and Sheikh Hasina throughout his career in the Ershad regime. He rose to being deputy prime minister, showed unflinching loyalty to Ershad. Then came a time when he, angry at his leader’s increasing closeness to the Awami League, went with a bouquet to Begum Zia’s office and joined the BNP. With him was Syeda Razia Faiz, who had earlier left the Muslim League, joined the Jatiya Party and served as a minister in the Ershad government.
Salahuddin Quader Chowdhury, who too had quit the Muslim League to become a minister under Ershad, at one point resigned, to join the BNP in Ershad’s bad times. A happy object of Ershad’s political charms was the journalist Anwar Zahid, who as information minister made it known that he would even sweep the streets of the city if his president asked him to.
Many were the reputations wrecked through involvement with the regime. Additionally, there were those whose already tarnished reputations needed to be papered over by association with Ershad. Justice Nurul Islam, who had loyally served the Yahya Khan junta in 1971 in his capacity as chairman of the East Pakistan Red Cross, was appointed vice president by Ershad.
He did not last long. Moulana Abdul Mannan, notorious for his collaboration with the Yahya-Tikka-Niazi gang and his role in the abduction and killing of Bengali intellectuals on the eve of liberation, happily became minister for religious affairs in the Ershad cabinet.
The erstwhile leftist politician Kazi Zafar Ahmed, having ditched his United People’s Party to serve the Ziaur Rahman regime in the late 1970s, did the ditching act a second time when he abandoned Khaleda Zia and linked up with General Ershad. He served in increasingly higher positions. After the dictator fell, Zafar simply walked away from him. Much a similar tale is associated with Moudud Ahmed. He was a loyalist of the Zia dictatorship, serving as a minister under the general.
In the initial period of Ershad’s regime, he was carted off to prison on charges of corruption, to be released through an understanding that saw him becoming a minister under Ershad. Moudud went up to being prime minister and then vice president. After Ershad’s fall, he returned to the BNP with his new-found loyalty for the Begum. Anwar Hossain Manju, editor of Ittefaq, was an influential minister in the Ershad dispensation. After 1990, he severed his links with his leader and walked off with his faction of the Jatiya Party. Meanwhile, he also had stints as a minister in Sheikh Hasina’s governments.
The diplomat Humayun Rashid Chowdhury served as foreign minister under Ershad and later joined the Awami League, becoming Speaker of the Jatiya Sangsad. A.M.A. Muhith, having been finance minister in the regime, joined the Awami League, in the government of which he served as finance minister again for a number of years.
Enayetullah Khan, editor of weekly Holiday, was sent off to China and then to Burma by President Ershad as ambassador. Earlier, in the Zia regime, Khan had briefly served as a minister. The left-leaning politician-cum-journalist Sirajul Hossain Khan was given a berth in the cabinet by Ershad.
The journalist Mahbubul Alam served the regime in a number of capacities — as minister press at the country’s embassy in Washington, as managing director of Bangladesh Sangbad Sangstha, as director general external publicity and as ambassador to Bhutan. The brilliant writer-cum-bureaucrat Syed Najmuddin Hashim was ambassador to Moscow and Rangoon and minister for information.
Justice B.A. Siddiky, former chief justice of the East Pakistan High Court, became president of the Bangladesh Muslim League following the death of Khan Abdus Sabur. His experience was short-lived, for he was appointed Bangladesh’s permanent representative to the United Nations by President Ershad. He came back home from New York after two years in the job.
These, then, are the chronicles of those who were once with Hussein Muhammad Ershad before going their diverse ways. A simple truth ought to be stated here. There are people who are forever ready and willing to ingratiate themselves before a dictatorship. These very same people, once the dictatorship bites the dust, repudiate their roles in it without shame and with alacrity.