HUSSEIN Muhammad Ershad spoke again, and once again in his characteristic ebullience he reminded us of Pueraeternus, Latin for 'eternal boy.' The term is used in mythology to designate a child-god, who is forever young, but depicts in psychology the mental condition of an older man whose emotional life remains at an adolescent level. This man-boy leads a provisional life, because he is afraid of being caught in a situation from which he might not be able to escape. He cherishes independence and freedom, resists boundaries and limits, and hates restrictions.
All of which fits the bill of an evergreen man, whose mind has been aging much slower than his body. Mentally, Ershad lives in 1990, the year in which he was forced to step down in the face of a mass movement. So, when he said last Saturday that the government had no right to stay in power, he couldn't hide his psychosis. He went back twenty-four years and criticised a former chief justice for betraying him.
He was barking up the wrong tree. That chief justice had merely acted out the popular will. It was the people of this country who wanted Ershad gone. It was people who didn't want to see him return to power in the next election. The people also wanted to see him in jail, and they even expected their government to recover the fortune he had allegedly stashed away in foreign banks.
Many years later, the people of this country may have seen enough to change their minds. Over the years they have got their lens adjusted. They know other politicians are as much, if not more, ruthless and mischievous than Ershad. Yet many voters are allergic to him not only due to his autocratic rule before he lost power but also due to his esoteric behaviour since then.
Ershad must be the oldest living politician in this country, who's still actively involved in politics. But he is also the oddest living politician because of his precarious condition. His leadership in the party is wobbling. His standing in the parliament is wanting. His popularity amongst the people is waning.
So, it doesn't take an Einstein to guess that politically Ershad is living in a straightjacket. He isn't probably enjoying his absurd position straddling the contradictions of being in the government and the opposition at the same instance. Outside the party, he is not the main man in the parliamentary opposition. Inside the party, the wife has stolen some of his thunder. It explains why he occasionally chafes against the government like a pressure cooker intermittently whistles to release steam.
One of the defining outcomes of Ershad's politics is that he's no longer taken seriously. People know nothing he says can be final, and his mind fluctuates more frequently than power in the national grid. They know he is at once an illusionist, a stunt performer and an escape artist, who comes closest to being the Harry Houdini of our national politics.
Scientists have concluded lately that the theropod dinosaurs shrank over 50 million years to evolve into small birds. That evolution came inexorably to our former dictator within a much shorter span of time. In fact, he admitted it himself when he said during an interview that the best time of his life was when he was the army chief. After that his life has been one disturbing episode after another. The one-time strongman has weakened over the years, reduced to nothing more than an anecdote in the annals of political sorcery.
I still insist that the best thing for Ershad would have been retirement from politics after his ouster from power. Since he decided to overstay the welcome, he should have been more forceful and honourable instead of being complicit and scared. He should have worked to prove people wrong instead of giving them more reasons to doubt his convictions.
Part of that failure comes from living in the prison, of his fear of going to prison again. Part of it is because his lust for power never ceased to be obvious. It's poetic justice that people are now treating him no more earnestly than he has treated them.
In the coming days, Ershad will bring us more slapstick moments because deep down inside he is an anguished man. He will fret and fume and swing between his praise and criticism for the government. That's the role he has accepted in the folly of being a make-believe opposition in a make-believe government.
Ershad's meaningless chatter accentuates political void as he, in his provisional position, proves his relentless psychosis. At a time when the ruling party is struggling to rule and the opposition is struggling to oppose, he knows nothing is difficult for someone who doesn't have to do it himself.
The writer is Editor, First News and an opinion writer for The Daily Star.