AL, BNP leaders stay sceptic about talks; find bitterness between their chiefs runs deep
Talking to The Daily Star yesterday, some leaders of the ruling Awami League and the main opposition BNP expressed frustration at the way the conversation between Hasina and Khaleda went on Saturday.
They said the conversation couldn’t make them hopeful about a dialogue to break the political impasse over polls-time government. Some of them even said the possibility of a dialogue was faint.
The two leaders got into an argument on several issues, including an election-time government, celebration of Khaleda’s birthday on August 15, alleged repression on opposition activists by the government and withdrawal of the 60-hour hartal. “They talked for 37 minutes. But the contents of their discussion, which we came to know later, have exposed the increasing animosity between them,” said a senior BNP leader on condition of anonymity.
“They argued on some issues that sent a wrong message to people,” said the BNP leader.
AL Organising Secretary Khalid Mahmud Chowdhury told The Daily Star that the way the opposition leader talked to the prime minister was utterly frustrating.
During the conversation, Hasina, president of the ruling AL, requested Khaleda, chairperson of the BNP, not to celebrate her birthday on August 15, the National Mourning Day.
“You cut cake and celebrate your birthday on August 15. Don’t you remember the face of my youngest brother Russell whom you saw many times when you used to visit our Dhanmondi-32 house?” an AL leader quoted Hasina as telling Khaleda during the conversation.
In response, Khaleda said she wouldn’t refrain from celebrating her birthday on August 15. “Won’t anyone celebrate birthday if one is born on August 15?” asked Khaleda.
Agriculture Minister Matia Chowdhury criticised Khaleda for “refusing to accept” Hasina’s invitation to the Gono Bhaban and making “indecent” comments on birthday celebration on August 15.
Speaking at a press conference at Hasina’s Dhanmondi office, Matia said the prime minister’s invitation to the opposition leader for dialogue was still valid.
“We are still optimistic about finding a solution through dialogue,” said Matia, also AL presidium member.
In the wake of the conversation between Hasina and Khaleda, the ruling and the opposition parties are moving ahead with their plans to gain political mileage out of the prevailing situation.
The BNP might communicate with the AL after the opposition’s 60-hour shutdown ends tomorrow, said BNP insiders.
The main opposition party might ask the AL to arrange for a dialogue any time after tomorrow evening, and subsequently postpone its planned agitation to show its sincerity in holding talks, they said.
Acting BNP secretary general Mirza Fakhrul Islam Alamgir may phone AL General Secretary Syed Ashraful Islam after the shutdown ends, and set the time for talks between Hasina and Khaleda, said a BNP leader.
If the AL gives a positive reply, Khaleda may call Hasina to hold talks any time between Tuesday evening and Thursday, said the BNP leader.
However, some BNP leaders have been trying to persuade Khaleda not to join talks with Hasina, said sources in the BNP.
On the other hand, several AL leaders said Hasina might not show interest in holding talks with Khaleda, as the opposition leader had refused to accept her invitation to the Gono Bhaban.
Asked if the ruling party would again invite Khaleda to talks, AL Presidium Member Kazi Zafarullah told The Daily Star, “Why should we? They have rejected the invitation.”
He, however, said the door for discussion was still open.
Some leaders of both the AL and the BNP believe there should be talks first at secretary-general level to prepare the ground for a dialogue between the two top leaders.
If Hasina and Khaleda fail to sit together, it would mean the end of all possibilities for resolving the political crisis at the negotiating table, they said.
The ruling and the opposition parties yesterday spoke in favour of their proposals on election-time government.
AL leader Matia said there could be talks on the formation of an all-party polls-time government as proposed by the prime minister.
However, talking to reporters at BNP’s Nayapaltan office, Fakhrul said the dialogue must be held on a non-party polls-time government, not an all-party government.