A week after winning a controversial election to the Bangladesh national assembly with a brute majority, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina Sunday (January 6) struck against the Awami League old guard by excluding some of the party heavyweights and thereby making a near-clean break with the past and paved the way for the next generation of leaders.
The new ministers—24 cabinet and 19 state ministers, besides three deputy ministers—will formally take oath Monday (January 7) before taking charge of their respective portfolios. It was earlier suggested that the ministers take oath on January 10, the day Sheikh Mujibur Rahman returned triumphant to Dhaka from incarceration in a Pakistani jail, 46 years ago.
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Altogether, 36 from the previous council of ministers were not picked as either full cabinet ministers or even as ministers of state. More significantly, by showing the door to the Awami League old guard—Amir Hossain Amu (who was previously industry minister), Tofail Ahmad (commerce portfolio), Matia Chowdhury (agriculture), Mohammad Nasim (health) and Workers Party leader Rashed Khan Menon (social welfare) among others — Hasina has weakened the link between the party’s core and India. These very leaders were sidelined from taking important party-related decisions following their mild criticism of Sheikh Hasina in November 2007. Their ouster from the council of ministers is indication enough that Hasina has now fully settled scores with them.
These leaders, who were once lieutenants of Bangladesh founder Sheikh Mujibur Rahman during and immediately after the 1971 liberation war, constituted a “trusted” link with New Delhi. Their exclusion, Bangladesh political observers as well as other Awami League leaders said, could be interpreted as a deliberate strategy to distance the party-government from the “powerful western neighbour”. However, this step to sideline the old guard could have negative consequences in so far as the party’s organisational structure is concerned.
“They may yet prove to be a thorn in Hasina’s flesh in the months to come. Although these leaders have been sufficiently weakened, they may not take this lying down,” an Awami League leader who did not wish to be identified said. Another political observer said that “non-inclusion of the old-timers is a signal that Hasina has cut the generation-to-generation linkages that were so vital for the growth of the party over time. After all, these leaders held the party together to a great extent”.
A second distinctive feature of the 46-member team of ministers, which is by most accounts an “experimental club” for now with sufficient scope and room for “juggling around” in the near future, is the entry of “young faces” or those who are perceived to be close to Hasina’s son Sajeeb Wazed Joy. Among these are Nasrul Hamid (state minister – power, energy and mineral resources), Junaid Ahmad Palak (state minister – information and broadcasting), Shahriar Alam (state minister – foreign affairs), K M Khalid (state minister – cultural affairs), Golam Dastagir Ghazi (cabinet – textile and jute), Mostafa Jabbar (cabinet – post, telegraph and information broadcasting) and A H M Mustafa Kamal (cabinet – finance).
An important inclusion was of former foreign minister Dipu Moni, considered to be close to Hasina, this time as a full cabinet minister in charge of education. Moni’s re-entry into the cabinet is indication enough that she has been able to win back Hasina’s trust. A significant exclusion was of former shipping minister Shahjahan Khan who ran into controversies over statements made during the road safety movement.
Thirdly, this is the first all-Awami League council of ministers that Hasina has put together, indicating further that with a brute majority of 257 seats—by itself a two-thirds majority in the Jatiya Sangsad—she used the ‘freedom’ to completely do away with including any of her allies in the ministry. This was possible after the second largest party, the H M Ershad-led Jatiya Party, took on the role of the ‘opposition’ in the 300-member House. By virtue of this massive majority, Hasina could well afford to jettison other alliance partners such as the Jatiya Samajtrantrik Dal (JSD) whose previous nominee on the cabinet, Hasanul Huq Inu (information and broadcasting), was not given any berth this time around.
While, as many as 36 ministers from the previous cabinet were dropped, Hasina included seven Awami Leaguers who are first-time MPs. Besides, she took the “politically correct” decision not to include any of her relatives in the council of ministers.
Only two MPs from the minority community—Bir Bahadur Ushesingh (Chittagong Hill Tracts) and Swapan Bhattacharya (local government, rural development and cooperative)—were appointed cabinet and deputy ministers, respectively. While former finance minister A M A Muhit was overlooked this time, possibly because of old age, his brother Abul Kalam Abdul Momen was appointed as the foreign minister. The number of technocrat ministers was also sharply cut down from four to two this time.