Relief, after three months' tension
Archrivals Awami League and BNP both breathed sighs of relief as Khaleda Zia finally returned to her residence yesterday, after staying at her Gulshan office for three months.
Two hours before entering her Gulshan house around 12:40pm, Khaleda surrendered before a Dhaka court and obtained bails in two corruption cases in which the court had ordered her arrest 39 days ago.
Upon her appearance, the court withdrew the arrest warrants in Zia Orphanage Trust and Zia Charitable Trust graft cases. The warrants had been issued after the BNP chief dodged court proceedings for four consecutive dates.
The latest developments are seen as a breakthrough in the prevailing political stalemate.
Talking to The Daily Star, some BNP leaders yesterday lauded Khaleda's latest decisions and hoped this would help the party wage its anti-government movement afresh and with people's engagement.
The party should now focus on the April 28 city corporation elections, by calling off the movement for the time being, they said.
Some leaders who met Khaleda in the last few days requested her to call off the countrywide blockade and to instruct party men to step up organisational activities.
"I got several phone calls today from grassroots leaders in Dinajpur, my home district. They appreciated the chairperson's latest decisions," said Lt Gen (retd) Mahbubur Rahman, a BNP standing committee member.
He described the chairperson's decisions as a step forward to overcome the ongoing political deadlock.
"Now both sides [AL and BNP] should come forward. They need to engage positively," he told this correspondent.
Contacted, several BNP grassroots leaders also welcomed Khaleda's decisions to appear before the court and return to her house.
However, the ruling AL believes the BNP will not be able to wage a fresh agitation soon and the government will have adequate time to focus on governance issues.
"We are very happy. Our strategy has worked," an AL central leader said, wishing anonymity. "A positive wind has started blowing in the political arena."
Khaleda had been staying in her Gulshan office since January 3. The government had made several efforts so that she returned to her house, but those went in vain.
Asked, AL Presidium Member Nuh-ul-Alam Lenin said a positive political scenario was prevailing in the country for the last two days.
The government will now allow the BNP to hold rallies and processions, said sources in the government.
On Saturday, the government allowed the BNP men to enter their party headquarters at Nayapaltan, which law enforcers had locked on January 3.
Contacted, Iftekharuzzaman, executive director of Transparency International Bangladesh, said the BNP took the city elections as an exit path from its ongoing movement, which apparently detached the party from people due to its violent nature.
“Now the question is how much the BNP will be able to utilise the opportunity, refraining itself from falling into the trap of provocation,” he said.
On the other hand, Iftekhar said, the challenge for the government was to prove that a free and fair election was possible under it.
“The prospect of this opportunity depends on the extent to which the two sides are able to ensure peaceful democratic practices before and after the elections,” he added.
On the latest developments, Zahirul Islam, a private service holder, said, "It is a positive step. It gave us some relief. We hope Khaleda Zia will call off the blockade. And the government will open talks to reach an agreement with the BNP."
Khaleda entered the court premises at Bakshibazar around 10:35am amid tight security.
She was accompanied by party Vice-chairperson Selima Rahman and President of its women front Shirin Sultana.
Before delivering the order on bail petitions, Judge Abu Ahmad Jomadar said he was compelled to issue the arrest warrants for the sake of continuing the trial.
He had no intention to send Khaleda to jail, he added.
None of the three accused, including Khaleda, who were on bail, was present in the court on February 25, prompting the court to cancel their bails and issue the arrest orders, the judge said.
The court then granted Khaleda bail attaching some conditions: She and the two other accused must appear before the court on every date.
"If you cannot appear before the court on every date, you may ask your lawyers to file a petition seeking exemption from personal appearance. I will grant the petition. On your behalf, your lawyers can appear before the court like another accused Tarique Rahman," the judge told Khaleda.
The prosecution did not oppose the bail considering Khaleda's status, social and political dignity and age, chief prosecutor Mosharraf Hossain Kajol told the court.
The court also granted bail to two other accused -- former BNP lawmaker Kazi Salimul Haque and businessman Sharfuddin Ahmed.
At the beginning of the proceedings, Khaleda's lawyers questioned the legality of the arrest warrants.
The prosecutor objected to it and asked the defence to omit the phrases questioning the “legality of issuance of the arrest orders”.
He said the arrest warrants were absolutely legal, a view the judge supported.
Khaleda's lawyers then deleted the phrases from the bail petitions.
The court allowed Khaleda's lawyers to cross-examine the complainant of the cases, said Harunur Rashid, deputy director of the ACC.
The court adjourned the hearing until May 5.
Jan 3: Police confine Khaleda to her Gulshan office and pick up Rizvi Ahmed and admit him to a hospital
Jan 4: DMP imposes a ban on rallies in the city
Jan 5: Police prevent Khaleda from going out of her office; she announces countrywide nonstop blockade
Jan 6: The blockade starts
Jan 13: Gun attack on Khaleda's adviser Reaz Rahman in Gulshan
Jan 18: Police remove barricade and additional policemen from Khaleda's office
Jan 19: Khaleda announces the blockade to continue; Opts to stay in her office
Jan 24: Khaleda's son Arafat Rahman Koko dies in Kuala Lumpur; PM fails to meet Khaleda and console her due to a closed gate at Khaleda's office; Khaleda expresses gratitude for Hasina's visit
Jan 27: Fakhrul is taken on remand
Jan 31: Power, cable, internet, mobile and landline connections to Khaleda's office cut; Power restored after 19 hours
Feb 1: 20-party's 72-hour hartal starts
Feb 3: Hartal extended until the end of the week
Feb 16: Minister Shajahan Khan leads a rally that surrounds Khaleda's office
Feb 21: Khaleda skips Shaheed Minar programme on Ekushey February
Mar 2: Arrest warrants issued for Khaleda in two graft cases
Mar 4: Court issues warrant allowing police to search Khaleda's office
Mar 9: 20-party relaxes hartal for 12 hours to celebrate the Tiger's qualifying for the quarterfinals of the cricket world cup
Mar 10: BNP's Salahuddin Ahmed goes missing from a Uttara house
Mar 13: Khaleda appears before the media after 52 days
Mar 18: EC announces polls schedule for three city corporations
Mar 24: After 38 days of hartal on all working days since Feb 1, 20-party announces no hartal on Mar 25
Mar 26: Khaleda skips Independence Day programme in Savar
Mar 30: 48-hr hartal announced
Apr 4: Police allow BNP men break the lock and enter their central office after 91 days
Apr 5: Khaleda goes to the special court and returns to her residence