Bangladesh Muktijoddha Sangsad, a welfare organisation for Liberation War heroes, now has fake freedom fighters and even a war crimes suspect in its central command council.
Mahbubul Haque Chisty alias Babul Chisty, accused of killing a freedom fighter in 1971 and allegedly a member of the notorious auxiliary force Al-Badr, has been elected secretariat member of the council.
As if that were not enough, Wahidur Rahman and SM Mortuja Hossain, who have no record of recognition as freedom fighters, have been elected vice-chairmen. They allegedly managed false certificates of war heroes to get into the organisation and run for the posts.
With a total of 1,52,078 voters across the country, the election was held on June 4 and the gazette on the result was published on Monday.
Thanks to the flow of money and influence of the local administration and people's representatives in some cases, the election placed some dubious figures, including the three, at the helm of such a prestigious organisation.
The trio contested from the Maj Gen (retd) GH Morshed Khan-led panel that secured all the posts of the central command council, the 41-man body to steer the organisation.
Three other panels -- led by Maj (retd) Zia Uddin, Maj (retd) Wakar Hassan and Abdul Ahad Chowdhury -- failed to bag a single post.
Hamidul Islam, who lost his brother and father during the Liberation War, filed a case against Chisty with the Chief Judicial Magistrate's Court, Sherpur, in July 2009.
The complainant accused Chisty and 12 others of killing his freedom fighter brother Saidur Rahman on November 2, 1971 and his father Mokhlesur Rahman, then a union parishad chairman, on November 9, 1971 after brutal torture at the Pakistan army camp in Jamalpur.
The murder was reported in Jamalpurer Muktijuddher Itihash, a book on the history of the war in the district, and also in the March 14, 1972 issue of the Bangla daily Purbadesh.
Hamidur lodged another case against Chisty and 13 others with Sribardi Police Station in Sherpur on July 13, 2009, on charges of murder, arson, loot and rape during the war of independence.
Another victim, M Fazlur Rahman, filed a case with the Jamalpur Chief Judicial Magistrate's Court in 2009, accusing Chisty and three other Al-Badr men of killing his father Saiduzzaman on November 12, 1971.
Despite such legal moves, Chisty managed to get his name placed on the list of freedom fighters.
In 2009, around 60 freedom fighters from Bakshiganj, Jamalpur, applied to the Muktijoddha Sangsad central command to drop Chisty's name from the list. They also called upon the district social service officer for cancellation of the honorarium provided to Chisty.
Wahidur Rahman, chief engineer of Local Government Engineering Department (LGED), managed a false certificate in 2004 to get his tenure extended, according to war heroes closely involved with the Sangsad.
Several freedom fighters from Wahid's home area in Chouddagram, Comilla, said he had neither participated in the Liberation War nor obtained any training as a freedom fighter.
Wahid's name was not found in 'Muktibarta', a list of freedom fighters, prepared by the 1996-2001 Awami League-led government.
"He [Wahidur Rahman] never fought in the Liberation War," Mainuddin Pintu, office secretary of Muktijoddha Sangsad's Comilla district command, told The Daily Star.
Aga Masum, who was deputy commander of Chouddagram unit Bangladesh Liberation Force (BLF) in 1971, said, "Wahid is not a real freedom fighter. He will not be able to say where he took his training."
Asked under which sector he had fought and from where he had received training, Wahid declined to say anything in this regard.
The High Court on May 26 suspended his candidacy for the central command council election for three months following a writ petition filed by a freedom fighter.
The petition questioned his candidacy and said he might misuse his powers as LGED chief engineer to win the election. Later, the Supreme Court stayed the HC order for two weeks.
The Liberation War Affairs ministry on May 14 sent a letter to Wahid asking for documents backing his claim that he was a freedom fighter. The letter mentioned the ministry had also wanted those documents earlier but he had provided nothing.
In response to this letter, Wahid submitted some documents but the ministry was not satisfied with those, sources said.
Similar allegations are rife against SM Mortuja Hossain, who hails from Fatikchhari, Chittagong.
Borhanuddin Chowdhury, ex-commander of Fatikchhari Muktijoddha Sangsad, told The Daily Star that Mortuja Hossain didn't fight or get training during the Liberation War.
Many desperately want positions in the central command council since there is big money involved -- around Tk 2 lakh a day from Muktijoddha Sangsad Krira Chakra and around Tk 7 crore annually, or 4 percent, from the lease money the government earns from haat-bazaars.
Money also changes hands for places on the freedom fighters' list.
So, according to sources, Wahid did whatever he could to ensure his victory and that of his panel.
The engineers under the LGED ministry worked for him across the country. They were directly involved in the election campaign.
They spent huge sums on buying votes and managing district commanders. In many places, local administration and elected representatives helped Wahid manipulate the election, alleged freedom fighters.
Sources said Wahid even formed a committee comprised of his colleagues, including Executive Engineer Md Baset, assistant engineer (admin) Zahirul Islam and Assistant Engineer (Dhaka zone) SM Feroz for coordinating his election campaign and maintaining liaison with executive engineers in districts.
Sources also said all election posters of Wahid and his panel were printed from the LGED's printing press at Agargaon in Dhaka.
Asked about engineers' participation in the election campaign, Wahid said it was not unusual. "I am the chief engineer and so engineers campaigned for me."
Moshiur Rahman Ranga, state minister for Local Government and Rural Development and Cooperatives, said his ministry was yet to receive any such allegation.
"If we get specific allegations that engineers personally campaigned for any individual, we will take initiatives to cancel the polls results of that specific district."
Talking to The Daily Star, several freedom fighters and district commanders admitted to getting money and phone calls from local engineers to support Wahid. But none of them agreed to make comments on the record.
Major (retd) Zia Uddin alleged that Wahid had stigmatised the Muktijoddha Sangsad election by using “illegal” money. "He [Wahidur Rahman] also violated the electoral code of conduct through using his power as a government official."
On top of that, Wahid is not a freedom fighter, said Zia Uddin.
Abdul Ahad Chowdhury, ex-chairman of the central command council, alleged Wahid had stuffed the ballot box with the help of engineers in districts and upazilas.
He alleged that some Tk 5-10 lakh were distributed among the district commanders and freedom fighters to buy votes and support.
Both Zia and Ahad demanded a fresh election.
Ahad has already sent a letter to the chief election commissioner as well as the cabinet secretary demanding cancellation of the gazette on the election results.
Meanwhile, the Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) is probing an allegation of illegal accumulation of wealth by Wahidur Rahman.
Contacted, Monirul Hoque, secretary general (administration) candidate of Maj (retd) Zia Uddin's panel, said that there were irregularities in the election. GH Morshed Khan's panel had bought votes in almost all areas.
Shafiqul Bahar Majumder Tipu, secretary general (finance and planning) candidate of Ahad Chowdhury panel, claimed some upazila chairmen, municipal mayors and in some places MPs had captured vote centres and stuffed ballot papers.
He said it was very unfortunate that persons like Asaduzzaman Arju, who celebrated Bangabandhu's assassination by distributing sweets; Shah Alam, bodyguard of collaborator Shah Moazzem, razakar Babul Chisty, corrupt official Wahidur Rahman and fake freedom fighter Mortuza had become Muktijoddha Sangsad leaders.
Ahad Chowdhury has announced that a commander-level conference would be held at the Institution of Engineers today. Sources say that from the conference, he will make a call for a grand rally of freedom fighters in the capital.
Contacts with several leaders reveal that aggrieved freedom fighters are now considering floating a separate organisation.
Najmul Hassan Pakhi, who was a candidate for secretary general (relief and rehabilitation), told this correspondent that those who had used money for winning the election would never work in freedom fighters' interest.
He said a vested quarter had grabbed the Muktijoddha Sangsad by luring freedom fighters with money. "Those who did this will definitely use the organisation in their own interest, not for the freedom fighters."
Pakhi, who fought for the nation's freedom in the Chittagong Hill Tracts under the leadership of Sheikh Fazlul Haque Moni, regretted that real freedom fighters had sold themselves to power and money.
"My heart is bleeding...I am frustrated,” said the war hero in an emotion-choked voice.
“We are defeated."