Hussain Muhammad Ershad has just won an ironic victory. His birthday has been celebrated in Modhu's Canteen, the place which was once the very heart of the anti-Ershad movement. Former president Lt. Gen. (retd) HM Ershad was not present at the canteen, but his portrait was up there, surrounded with balloons. There were just 16 persons there, celebrating the birthday, or 17 if Ershad’s picture can be considered his presence. And the number 17 can allude to the 17 cavalries of Muhammad bin Bakhtiyar Khilji's army that conquered Bengal.
The All-Party Student’s Unity had once banned Jatiya Chhatra Samaj in Dhaka University, and even the university administration had respected that ban till now. The birthday celebration now mocks those sentiments.
The memorials of Raufun Basunia and Dr Milon, martyrs of Ershad autocratic rule, are now ignored. No one even knows the accurate number of people who died on 14 February 1983. Police at the time dragged away a number of dead bodies to unknown places and these were never found later. Victory never came to Zafar, Joynal, Mozzamel, Ayub, Kanchan and Dipali. The truth of the event has been twisted and that too has been accepted. A nation that can be manipulated like that is bound to lose again and again and will have to wear the crown of defeat. It is important to keep the memory of defeat fresh while celebrating victory.
The fall of a military ruler is celebrated as the victory of democracy. But what sort of democracy is one that has almost demolished the system of elections itself? Is this a democracy where military rulers like Ershad remain like a shining stigma on the forehead of the nation? Where freedom of expression and protest is a far cry? Is this Bangladesh the outcome of the movement of the 80s, or the result of compromise? We have so many ‘spirits’ -- the spirit of democracy, the spirit of the liberation war, spirit of Islam and more. America is said to be a country where liberty is a statue. And Bangladesh is a country where ‘spirit’ works as a sedative.
The political monopoly of Ershad has returned to Bangladesh. Production was replaced by construction. Ayub Khan also had construction-based development and built many bridge and culverts. Ershad too wants to mark his period as a time of development. But it was the independent entrepreneurs who opened the doors of the foreign labour market for the local workers. They also established the garment industry back in the 80s.
The Ershad model of 'less democracy and more development' is what we follow today. So, is there anyone who can say Ershad was defeated? If he had been defeated, his address would now be the central jail. Instead, his address is the parliament of Bangladesh, and his position is a strange one - 'special envoy to prime minister'. How can one man be in the government as well as in the opposition at the same time? Aren’t they supposed to be at loggerheads?
Neither Ershad nor his political ideology conceded defeat, and that is why he is the third political force and lawmaker of several terms. Ershad can do anything. He can entertain the cat as well as the mouse inside the cat's mouth, at the same time. He won a number of seats in the elections even from inside the jail. Admitting defeat is a culture in democracy. It is reality. We readily admit that. The birthday celebration at Madhu's Canteen worked well to rid ourselves out of any illusions caused by the opium of the ‘spirit’. Those who have shame, be ashamed. And as for those who lack consciousness, may they regain their consciousness.
Why should the followers of Ershad not be allowed to bring out processions and rallies on the Dhaka University campus? After all, Ershad has not been stripped of the right to participate in elections, and his party is registered. Why should there remain any objection to celebrations for Ershad at Dhaka University since he holds an honourable government post. For these reasons, Ershad's celebrations were held at Madhu's Canteen under the ruling party cover. Ershad and democracy are no more in conflict.