A never dying legendary phrase "Battle of the Titans" is now afield afresh in Bangladesh politics with long-horn politicians in a number of parties and alliances increasingly trying to outsmart or outpace rivals from within in a so far fruitless struggle to grab at least a small slice of the power cake.
In the battle that reminds us of the traditional 'bull race' in the villages or the 'boli khela' in Chittagong - where bulls and bolis compete fiercely to win the title or the prize, no matter even if it's a box of chocolate !
The latest battle is being fought on three turfs - on one is BNP Chairperson Khaleda Zia and her ex-minister Nazmul Huda, on the other is BNP Acting Secretary-General Mirza Fakhrul Islam Alamgir and members of the so-called 'Ashol (original) BNP' and on the third - and more curiously watched -- are former military ruler HM Ershad and his wife Jatiya Party Chairman Roushan Ershad. They all are fighting for 'survival' in Bangladesh's political quicksand or keep their heads above the mud piling on every patch of politics. Politics in Bangladesh looks now only safe for the ruling Awami League of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina.
Judging by realities in recent years, especially during Sheikh Hasina's seven years of rule, one would have no doubt or hesitation to feel or guess that AL is unlikely, and has no reason, to leave the field to its rivals, namely BNP (the single biggest party after AL) and the smaller parties and alliances finding their jaws dropping every day.
The battle between Ershad and Roushan climaxed this week when the 'copybook' couple moved to wrestle each other on the floor by appointing their chosen nominees to replace incumbents or to hold the baton for them in the future.
Ershad, Jatiya Party Chairman and a member of parliament, tried to fortify his own camp by naming his younger brother GM Quader (a former minister) as Co-Chairman of JP. Before the next dawn broke, Roushan, MP and opposition leader in parliament (blessed by AL) proclaimed herself the Acting Chief of JP throwing a challenge to Ershad's authority. The clashes, critics say, may have spread into their bedroom if the two - known for a series of 'get-knot and un-knot' experiences in their many years of shared life - still share the same!
To many, Ershad and Roushan are a 'ideal' couple who are bound by promise not to leave each other even in their 'extreme' times - but they are not at all ready to sacrifice a bit for one another, no one would go down under, in anyway. So it's time for them to set the teeth deeper and try to cling on it. Let's see the next move - which everyone hopes will be more interesting.
Now, intriguing is a demand by Nazmul Huda for Khaleda Zia to give up leadership of Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP), which her husband former military dictator Ziaur Rahman, had founded and of which Nazmul Huda, a barrister-at-law, was a close associate. Time passed and they pulled together nicely until Zia was killed in an abortive mutiny in 1981 and the BNP's mantle was passed on to Khaleda. Since then she has been the 'supreme commander' of the party and Huda was seen 'going in and going out' in the following years until last week - when he asked afresh Khaleda to quit.
Nazmul Huda now leads his self-proclaimed Bangladesh National Alliance (BNA) which so far has no 'real field' value on the country's political tarmac, which is potholed and bumpy making it risky for any new party or alliance.
Huda said: "Khaleda Zia has been burdened by her family. And it is such a big responsibility to run a party like the BNP. She should take rest and quit politics."
He was clearly referring to Khaleda's exiled son Tarique Rahman in London, who dictates his mother in policy making and implementation. That did never go well and many BNP insiders say "Khaleda has pushed the BNP into an irretrievable political quagmire by listening to and trusting her son." This has virtually buried Khaleda's dream for building a family dynasty and rule Bangladesh for decades to come.
Khaleda's ego and shallow wisdom are also blamed for BNP's poor state in politics now. And there is little sign that the former prime minister Khaleda will be able to resurrect her party before the next election in 2019 - more so because the ruling AL has made it's a vow to keep rivals under tremendous controls so that they can't become a formidable challenge to the rulers.
Ershad has a history of swinging between AL and BNP by aligning or supporting them in alternate elections. But his 'cunning' ploy has been exposed to the public and voters - except those from his own fold no longer go by his dictum. Ershad is a permanent loser in politics, his critics say, and he made the situation more vulnerable for himself by 'fighting' Roushan, unsuccessfully and unwittingly.
Roushan, the opposition leader handpicked by the ruling party, enjoys a relatively comfortable situation right at the moment as the AL has whispered into her ears that the ruling party wants Roushan to head the JP, whose support may be crucial in the next polls. Ershad still remains a 'swinging pendulum' never realizing his worn-out position among the country's electorate.
The government has, meanwhile, 'booked' Ershad's loyalty by making him Sheikh Hasina's diplomatic envoy (a high salaried job) and keeping him tagged in several legal cases for alleged corruption. This acts as a serious fear syndrome on Ershad as, if the authorities want, they can land him back in jail, where he had been several times, for long stints, since being ousted from power at end of 1990.
Ershad, Huda and others like them are small irritants in the political arena where AL and BNP are the main players and will vie for power for many years to come. The two parties have rotated in power since Ershad's departure and will remain key contenders, as they successfully restricted the rise of any new challenger.
The BNP now confronts a tattered house with some partners in Khaleda Zia's 20-party alliance having already vacated home while few others are pondering similar move. They all blamed it on Khaleda Zia's egoistic and eccentric attitude in managing the alliance. This has given the AL a better chance to outplay BNP in the coming polls. But only time will say.
Anis Ahmed is Executive Editor, The Daily Observer