Bangladesh Jamaat-e-Islamichief Maqbul Ahmad was released on bail on Tuesday night, raising suspicion within the BNP.
Maqbul, who was arrested along with eight other party leaders on October 9 last year, faces 35 cases, including for alleged vandalism, arson and sabotage, but has secured bail in each of them, Jamaat leaders said.
After his arrest, the International Crimes Tribunal had opened a primary inquiry into allegations of war crimes against him. The latest status of the inquiry was not readily available yesterday.
Several leaders of the BNP, a Jamaat ally, told The Daily Star yesterday that they were “surprised at his sudden release.”
“This is mysterious,” said one leader, who did not want to be named.
The BNP first started smelling a rat after Ehsanul Mahbub Jubayer, a Jamaat leader in Sylhet city, filed for mayor candidacy as an independent candidate despite BNP's objection, sources in the BNP said.
They said Maqbul's release and Ehsanul's vying for Sylhet mayor post were linked, although they could not say how.
This is the first time since the Awami League took office in 2009 that a Jamaat leader is running for city mayor's office.This is also the first time that the BNP and the Jamaat are facing off each other in a city mayoral race.
In 2013, Jamaat supported BNPs mayoral candidates in all the city polls.
After the announcement of the Sylhet City Corporation polls schedule, top BNP leaders, including its Secretary General Mirza Fakhrul Islam Alamgir and Standing Committee Member Nazrul Islam, said on multiple occasions that they would try to field a single candidate form the 20-party alliance, which the BNP leads.
Soon after Maqbul's release, BNP leaders held a meeting at party chairperson Khaleda Zia's Gulshan office on Tuesday night. The meeting decided to convene an alliance meeting soon.
The meeting also decided to demand an explanation from the Jamaat as to why a Jamaat leader was contesting the Sylhet city election when the BNP has fielded its own candidate.
Sources said that after Ehsanulsubmitted his nomination papers, several BNP leaders requested him to pull out of the race.
“It's for Jamaat to decide if it wants to remain in the alliance or not. Jamaat does its own politics. So Jamaat will have to make that decision,” Goyeshwar Chandra Roy, a BNP standing committee member, told The Daily Star yesterday.
“Jamaat did not support our candidate in Sylhet and we have a hunch that it will do the same in future. So the decision about Jamaat will be made in the alliance meeting,” he added.
The BNP formed an electoral alliance with Jamaat and two other political parties before the 2001 election, which it won. Over the years, the four-party alliance has become an alliance of 20 parties, some of them little known.
In recent years, especially after some top Jamaat leaders were hanged or jailed for war crimes, the BNP has been under pressure to sever its ties with Jamaat for its anti-liberation role in 1971.
Contacted, Jamaat's Nayeb-e-Ameer Mia Golam Parwar said, “The BNP-led alliance was formed to oust the autocratic regime and to go to power through a fair election. The alliance has nothing to do with local elections. So this election will not affect the relations between alliance partners.”