BNP Chairperson Khaleda Zia has been in jail for a year and the party is “facing the most difficult time in its history” in her absence.
The party has failed to reorganise following its defeat in the December 30 general polls. Its leaders and activists have been demoralised and there are no fresh protests to boost their morale.
To add to their woes, many senior leaders have become inactive after the election fearing harassment, said party sources.
Apart from the party's own organisational weakness, the government's tough stance has rendered the BNP unable to fight back and those at the grassroots don't see any hope of overcoming the situation right now, the sources said.
A huge number of BNP men are facing cases and are busy securing bail from courts, they added.
Upon conviction in a corruption case, the former prime minister, Khaleda, was sent to jail on February 8 last year. It is still not clear when she will walk out of jail.
Since its formation in 1978, the party for the first time participated in a parliamentary election on December 30 with Khaleda in jail.
She joined politics in 1982 after the assassination of her husband and party founder Ziaur Rahman. Under her leadership, the party took part in the movement against military dictator HM Ershad in the 80s and contested five parliamentary elections since 1991. She led her party to victory in three of those polls. But in this parliamentary election, the party secured only six seats.
Alleging massive rigging by the ruling Awami League, the BNP rejected the polls result. It, however, refrained from announcing any tough action, saying their first priority was Khaleda's release and the party's regrouping.
But the party's absence both from parliament and streets has frustrated those at the grassroots.
“Many party leaders requested the BNP high-ups to boycott the polls but the party joined it considering the move a part of the protests,” a senior leader said wishing anonymity.
“Basically, we lost all our grounds by joining the election. We gave the government legitimacy and now we have no strong ground for waging any movement,” he said.
After Khaleda's conviction, her party did not wage any tough movement. It believed peaceful protests would “brighten” the party's image and they would capitalise on it in the election.
In the meantime, the party failed to mobilise public support and also morally boost its leaders and activists.
Many from the grassroots are on the run.
Talking to The Daily Star recently, Abdul Hamid Mridha, a Chhatra Dal activist in Mymensingh, said, “Elections are over but still, we can't stay in our houses. Police may arrest us anytime.”
In Khaleda's absence, the BNP formed an alliance -- the Jatiya Oikyafront -- with several other parties, including the Dr Kamal Hossain's Gonoforum. But that did not work out.
Another BNP leader, wishing not to be named, said, “Time has come to examine our gain from joining the alliance. To me, we achieved nothing.”
Khaleda's son Tarique Rahman, the second-in-command of the party, has also been convicted in two graft cases in absentia. A fugitive facing several arrest warrants, he has been living in London in self-exile since 2008.
With Khaleda in jail, Tarique has been instructing the party leaders about their course of action.
“Yes, the party is facing crisis in absence of madam [Khaleda] because she is incomparable and her political wisdom is unparalleled. No one can fill that vacuum,” Mohammad Shahjahan, vice chairman of the party, said.
He also said, “At the same time, killing, abduction, ghost cases filed against party leaders and activists are the new edition of the repression on the opposition. We had never faced such repressions in the party.”
However, Moudud Ahmed, party's standing committee member, said, “In last one year, we have developed a collective leadership under the directives of party's acting chairman Tarique Rahman.”
Khaleda landed in the old central jail in Dhaka after a special court sentenced her to five years' rigorous imprisonment in Zia Orphanage Trust corruption case.
Meanwhile, the prosecution yesterday started placing arguments on BNP Chairperson Khaleda Zia and 16 others in connection with Gatco graft case.
During the hearing, Khaleda was at the court for over an hour.
The BNP chief was brought to the courtroom in a wheel chair. She was silent the entire time.