HM Ershad seems to have lost his grip on the Jatiya Party with a section of its leaders out to make sure the party sticks to the ruling Awami League.
Insiders say these leaders are also trying to ensure that the JP chairman, who has quite a record of flip-flops during crucial political times in the past, does not make any such move in future. Because of such U-turns of Ershad, the party has so far split four times.
These leaders think the party needs to be saved by neutralising Ershad as his whimsical back-flips are detrimental to the organisation.
Ershad's political somersaults were most evident ahead of the one-sided January 5 parliamentary election when he kept switching stances frequently, leaving most JP leaders confused and directionless. It was then these “anti-Ershad” leaders decided to move for a change in the party's steering wheel.
They made Ershad's spouse Raushan Ershad, senior presidium member of the party, the opposition leader following the election. The party gelled well with the ruling AL as well. Despite being the opposition in parliament, it secured three berths in the cabinet, an unprecedented happening in the history of Bangladesh.
Ershad now has no future in the party he created in 1986, says JP leaders.
“Following his U-turns ahead of the last election, he can't be trusted again,” said a senior JP leader, preferring anonymity.
Besides, the former military strongman's "possible conviction" in Gen Manzur murder case is another reason to make him "powerless" in the party, added the leader.
Ershad will remain the figurehead only, said JP insiders, adding if Ershad is convicted in the case, Raushan will be made the chairman.
Relieving Ruhul Amin Hawlader from the post of secretary general of the party was an important step to wresting power from Ershad. Hawlader supported Ershad every time the latter was against participating in the January 5 elections.
Ziauddin Ahmed Bablu, who has good links with the AL high command, has been given the office of the secretary general so that the JP could operate smoothly under the shadow of the government.
Against this backdrop, the presidium members and the lawmakers of the party met on Sunday to discuss reforms. Ershad chaired the meeting.
Now the reformist leaders are planning to strengthen the organisation across the country in a bid to save the party from an “existential crisis”.
“Jatiya Party's debacle in the recent upazila elections was a reflection of the party's sorry state,” Kazi Feroz Rashid, a senior presidium member of the JP, told The Daily Star.
In the recently held upazila elections, the JP-backed candidates won only three chairman posts against 455, and 16 vice chairman posts against 910.
Golam Mosih, personal secretary of Raushan, said the JP has lost its character as an independent political party since it has long been playing the role of a catalyst in taking either the AL or the BNP to power. So, the party requires a major overhauling and new strategy.
In a bid to win public support, the JP now plans to speak against the government on popular issues, alongside the BNP. At the same time, the JP ministers would help people with jobs and other government facilities.
The party currently has three memberships in the cabinet -- water resources minister, state minister for local government and rural development and state minister for labour and manpower.
Sources said the JP will also try to net in those leaders of the BNP and the AL in district levels who have popularity but got distanced from their party high command.