BNP cancels Rajshahi ‘long march’ as party decides to launch national agitation...

BNP cancels Rajshahi ‘long march’ as party decides to launch national agitation after talks with Hasina fail

SAM Correspondent,
Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and Jatiya Oikyafront leader Dr Kamal Hossain exchange pleasantries after Wednesday’s talks at the Gono Bhaban. Photo: Bangladesh PID

The Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) will launch a countrywide, peaceful and non-violent agitation in response to the Awami League government’s refusal on November 7 to accede to five of seven pre-election demands placed before it by the Jatiyo Oikkyo Jote (National United Front).

According to multiple high-level BNP sources, the decision to cease all further negotiations with the government was taken following meetings at three levels—the 36-member executive committee of secretaries, a majority of vice-presidents and advisors, and the influential standing committee—after the prime minister refused to meet some of the major demands placed by the Front in the second round of talks on November 7 sighting ‘constitutional restrictions’.

Meanwhile, the prime minister’s scheduled press conference on November 8 was postponed since it would clash with the Bangladesh Election Commission’s announcement of the polling dates the same day.

There was no word, till well past midnight, whether the BNP standing committee had taken any decision to participate in the elections to the Jatiya Sangsad (National Assembly), scheduled for December-end.But informed party sources told the South Asian Monitor that “it will be difficult for the higher echelons of the party to ignore the sentiments of the rank-and-file”, besides the other constituents of the National United Front led by Dr Kamal Hossain. The BNP will hold a meeting with other Front leaders on November 8 (today) to take a view on whether it “would or would not” take part in the polls.

BNP sources said that 34 of the 36 secretaries and eight of the 10 vice-presidents expressed their opinion in favour of launching a national agitation. Once the Front’s talks with the government collapsed this afternoon, BNP secretary-general Mirza Fakhrul Islam Alamgir declared that the planned “long march” to Rajshahi, scheduled for November 8, stood cancelled, though the main opposition party would take part in a rally in the district the following day (November 9). The date for the launch of the national agitation would be taken in a subsequent meeting of the standing committee.

BNP sources, however, said that the standing committee is empowered to ignore the recommendations of the executive committee and that of the vice-presidents and advisors, should other constituents of the National United Front take a different view. In the event the BNP does not take part in the polls, whenever they are held, the party may have to contend with “pressure from various quarters and levels”, which could eventually cause a “structural rupture” within the party, the sources feared.

“If the party is able to launch and continue its peaceful and non-violent agitation over a period of time, it will be deemed a success. But if the BNP doesn’t take part in the general elections, it will be left licking its wounds as it would be a near-repeat of the party’s decision not to contest the 2014 National Assembly polls,” a member on the executive committee told the South Asian Monitor.

Reacting to the Hasina government’s refusal to entertain the Front’s demands, BNP standing committee member Gayashwar Chandra Roy, who had earlier expressed his displeasure against the Front’s decision to talk to the Awami League regime, said: “It is extremely unfortunate that the Hasina government has shown scant regard for listening to the opposition. Its refusal to outright reject our demands is an insult to the people of Bangladesh. It can go ahead with the elections but at the cost of losing its legitimacy in the eyes of the people”.

Several central leaders of the BNP feared that the breakdown in negotiations would be followed by a “massive countrywide crackdown on party workers and activists”.

Earlier in the day, even after the talks collapsed, some BNP standing committee members, preferring anonymity, said that the party’s decision to join the Kamal Hossain-led United Front was the “best that could happen to the party at a time when it was faced with government repression”. One of them said: “BNP’s decision to join the Front created a positive perception among the people. The people felt enthusiastic and this itself was a huge positive for the party”.

Claiming that the BNP will “give all support to Kamal Hossain and the United Front since it benefitted from being an alliance partner”, the standing committee member admitted that there “have been insinuations within the party that Hossain has been propped by a regional country and is the B-Team of Hasina”, adding, however, that he “trusts” the octogenarian leader “won’t abandon the movement”.

Several senior BNP leaders admitted angrily that the failed negotiation also “casts a shadow over India”as BNP was expecting some kind of ‘push’ from New Delhi on Awami League government to accommodate their demand. “This time, India has lost trust as much as the Hasina regime,” a top BNP leader said, adding with a note of caution that “Bangladesh will see a popular upsurge it has never seen before”.