How money propelled Shahid, wife Salina to parliament

  • Kazi Mobarak Hossain, Staff Correspondent, bdnews24.com
    Published: 2020-07-11 11:16:43 BdST

People in Laxmipur’s Raipur did not even know who Mohammad Shahid Islam alias Kazi Papul was before 2016. Two years later, he became their representative in parliament with the support of the local Awami League units by virtue of spending, what many say, “lots of money”.   

He did not leave his wife Salina Islam behind either. She, too, became an MP from the seats reserved for women, using her husband's blueprint.

Having travelled to Kuwait as a migrant worker, Shahid now owns a business empire there. He also has a sizable amount of shares of NRB Commercial Bank, founded by expatriate Bangladeshi entrepreneurs.

Kuwaiti authorities have recently seized his personal and company bank accounts after arresting him on charges of human trafficking and money laundering. Bangladesh is also investigating him.

Local Awami League leaders now say they backed him in the 2018 elections as part of a strategy to defeat their political rivals.

They have made another thing clear – money played a vital role in Shahid’s sudden rise in the political arena.

‘USING FINANCIAL FORTUNE IN POLITICS’

Kazi Jamshed Baki Billah, convenor of Raipur municipality unit of the ruling party, said he came to know Shahid when the independent MP took steps to establish a charity named after his mother.

Since then, Shahid had given the Upazila units of the Awami League and its affiliates a lot of money, even building them party offices in every union and paying rents, Billah said. 

Identifying himself as the convenor of the ruling party’s overseas unit in Kuwait, Shahid became a member of a ward unit of the Awami League last year. His wife and daughter also became members of the unit at the time. 

Salina had been the vice-president of Cumilla North Awami League, but deserted the post to become MP.

The Awami League left the Laxmipur-2 seat for its ally the Jatiya Party, which nominated Mohammad Noman, the MP from the constituency in the last parliament.

Snubbed by the Awami League, Shahid began campaigning as an independent candidate. The picture changed abruptly when Noman pulled out of the race.

With no-one as their candidate, the local Awami League leaders threw their support behind Shahid and he eventually won the election by a huge margin. He bagged around 250,000 votes while his nearest rival, the BNP’s Abul Khayer Bhuiyan, got a little over 28,000.

After the Election Commission allocated the four independent MPs one seat from those reserved for women in the 11th Parliament, Shahid launched his successful bid to bring it to Salina.

So, what were the events that led the local Awami League leaders to back Shahid, an unknown figure in politics?

Billah said leaders of the district unit held an extended meeting and presented a letter from Selim Mahmud, a coordinator of the Awami League’s central election conduction committee. 

“On instructions issued by the centre in that meeting, we decided to support Shahid. But many are speaking against him now as he is in danger,” the Awami League leader said. 

Mamunur Rashid, the president of Raipur Upazila Awami League, also said they acted on instruction from the centre even after knowing that Shahid had spent the money for a purpose.

The unit’s General Secretary Ismail Hossain Khokon said Shahid’s entire family had always supported the BNP.

“He spent a lot of money to mingle with us. Many of us took money from him to hold programmes,” Khokon said. 

‘PRESSURE, HEFTY AMOUNT OF MONEY’

Local leaders of the Jatiya Party claimed a transaction of a “sizable” amount of money and “pressure from the Awami League” were the reasons behind Noman quitting the race.

“It wasn’t visible, but true that he [Noman] stepped aside in exchange for money. He did it in negotiation with Shahid. Mr Noman did not disclose everything, but gave me some hints about the transaction. He hinted that he left the race after getting a good amount [of money],” said MR Masud, convenor of the Jatiya Party’s Laxmipur district unit.

Anwar Hossain Bahar, the Raipur Upazila unit president of the party, said the political equation became very complex in the constituency before the election. “And Mr Noman left us without solving it. There may have been a transaction of money through the people involved with Shahid, but no-one told me anything about it.”   

“Many in the Awami League pressured Mr Noman to leave the seat as well. Mr Noman was the victim of an Awami League faction,” Bahar added.   

Amid criticisms following Shahid’s arrest, the party expelled Noman as the advisor of its chief last month.

bdnews24.com could not reach Noman for comment on the allegations that he took money from Shahid. Central leaders of the party were also tight-lipped about the issue.   

‘STRATEGIC SUPPORT’

Asked why the Awami League supported Shahid, Selim said it was a “strategic decision” of HT Imam, co-chairman of the ruling party's election steering committee.

“I only relayed it,” said Selim, the information and research secretary of the party. 

It reportedly organised a meeting at Imam’s home in Dhaka before leaving the seat for Shahid.

Imam did not receive phone calls or reply to SMS for comment. 

Among the candidates who sought the Awami League’s ticket, only Shahid remained in the race after Noman backed out, said Selim.

“When Noman ordered his supporters to work for Shahid just 15 to 16 days before the elections, a number of our party leaders in Laxmipur informed the central leaders that the BNP would win the seat easily if the situation remained the same. They suggested supporting Shahid was the only option to defeat the BNP candidate,” the Awami League leader said.

Their suggestion appeared “reasonable and acceptable” to the central leaders, who subsequently ordered the local units to work for Shahid, Selim added.