Jatiya Party Chairman HM Ershad has been unreachable for most of the party ranks over the last couple of days. He is staying in a house at Gulshan instead of his residence, President Park, in Baridhara.
Leaving the President Park on Friday, he went to the Combined Military Hospital (CMH) in Dhaka for “check-up”. He left the hospital on Sunday but did not return to his own residence, said a number of party leaders.
Only a few leaders, whom he wishes to meet or talk to over the phone, know his whereabouts and have contact with him, said JP leaders.
"He went to the CMH on Friday and was released on Sunday. He went to a house in Gulshan instead of the President Park," a JP presidium member told The Daily Star yesterday evening, wishing anonymity.
This led to intense speculation within the party as Ershad, known as an unpredictable character in the political arena, has record of playing mysterious role.
"I think he is under pressure for selecting party candidates and sharing seats with the ruling party," a JP lawmaker, who is also a minister in the Awami League-led government, told The Daily Star on condition of anonymity.
Ershad's hide-and-seek comes at a time when the seat-sharing between the ruling AL and his party still remains a contentious issue.
The JP, the main opposition in the current parliament, in the last couple of days wrote to the ruling AL twice to finalise the seat-sharing. But as of now, it remains unresolved.
Ershad demanded that the AL leave 100 out of 300 parliamentary constituencies for JP candidates to contest the polls under the banner of the grand alliance led by the ruling AL, insiders said.
But the ruling party did not agree on this creating an impasse.
Ruhul Amin Hawlader, secretary general of JP, was supposed to meet Obaidul Quader, general secretary of the AL, yesterday evening.
In the afternoon yesterday, Hawlader confirmed to The Daily Star about the planned meeting. In the evening, he said the meeting has been postponed and it will be held later.
"We are facing pressure from party leaders and activists as we cannot tell them from which parliamentary constituencies our candidates will run for the election," he said.
He said the party cannot clarify it as the ruling AL has yet to make it clear how many seats they will leave for JP leaders in the upcoming parliamentary election.
"We hope we will be able to reach an amicable solution over seat-sharing through a meeting with the ruling party high-ups soon," Hawlader said.
AL General Secretary Obaidul Quader on Sunday told newsmen that the issue of seat-sharing with the components of the grand alliance would be completed in a couple of days.
Besides, the JP secretary general said the party's nomination seekers along with many of their supporters are still staying in Dhaka to know the party's decision on selection of candidates.
"Therefore, they are yet to start preparatory work for election to fight the opponents."
A senior JP leader said prospective candidates of both the ruling AL and the BNP-led alliance are taking preparations in full swing in their constituencies. "But we are facing uncertainty as we still don't know how many seats the ruling party will leave for us."
The delay in resolving the seat-sharing issue prompted the JP to postpone its work for interviewing nomination seekers. It was originally scheduled for November 17.
The party will start interviewing aspirants today, said a JP press release yesterday. Hawlader confirmed that the date remains unchanged.
"The party chief may appear before the nomination seekers today," a senior JP leader said.
The party sold 2,700 nomination forms in six days since November 11.
Asked if the party is in talks with the BNP or Jatiya Oikyafront over seat-sharing, JP presidium member SM Foysal Chisty replied in the negative.
UNPREDICTABLE, AS ALWAYS
What Ershad is doing now is nothing new.
In 2006, he went into hiding facing pressure from the then ruling BNP to join its alliance. On December 18 that year, he suddenly appeared at a Paltan Maidan rally organised by AL, and announced his decision to join the AL-led alliance.
Following his instructions from hiding, JP leaders and workers had joined the rally before he reached there. Senior JP leaders Kazi Zafar Ahmed, Ruhul Amin Hawlader and GM Quader, among others, were present on the dais.
Joining the rally, Ershad said he and his party had been subject to constant threat and pressure for speaking out against what he said was unbridled corruption of the BNP-led four-party alliance.
"I am receiving threats that I would be sent to jail and come out as a mere corpse," the former dictator told the rally. "But I am a soldier, I am not scared of death," he added.
"I've thrown off the shackles to express solidarity with the Awami League-led grand alliance. I'm here today, free as a bird," he said on an emphatic tone.
He claimed he had to get over several hurdles to get to the rally “at this crucial juncture”.
Ershad led his party to remain in the AL-led grand alliance to contest the 9th parliamentary election in 2008, held two years behind schedule due to the state of emergency declared amid political turmoil.
After seven years, when another parliamentary election was in the offing, Ershad became the centre piece of a long-drawn drama for his flip-flops over joining the January 5 polls in 2014.
Announcing that the JP will not participate in the election, he had asked his party's candidates to withdraw their nomination papers. The BNP-led alliance and some other opposition parties also boycotted the polls.
Giving rise to questions and confusions, he was taken to the CMH from his Baridhara residence on December 12, 2013.
However, a section of JP leaders decided to join the polls. The party chairman was elected a lawmaker in the January 5 polls as he could not withdraw his candidacy from Rangpur-3.
From the CMH, where he had been staying for unknown “illness”, Ershad directly went to the Bangabhaban to attend the oath-taking ceremony of the prime minister and ministers of the new government on January 12, 2014.
On the same day, he was appointed special envoy of the prime minister with the status of a minister. Three of his party lawmakers were inducted into the council of ministers.
Talking to reporters at the Bangabhaban after the ceremony, Ershad said: “I'm quite well." From there, he returned to the President Park with a new role.
In the wake of criticism against his party for being in the opposition and in the cabinet at the same time, Ershad on several occasions in recent years said he would ask the three party men to step down as ministers paving the way for JP to emerge as the real opposition.
But earlier this month, after talks with the AL-led 14-party alliance, the JP chief said his party will participate in the upcoming election as a component of the grand alliance.