All eyes glued to Golapbagh
After protracted negotiations, the BNP finally got permission for its rally today at a ground which was not its first choice by any means.
The permission came at the cost of a life, injuries to around 100 people, and arrest of dozens of party stalwarts.
The rally will start at 11:00am with BNP standing committee member Khandakar Mosharraf Hossain as the chief guest since Secretary General Mirza Fakhrul Islam Alamgir, standing committee member Mirza Abbas and other top leaders were sent to jail yesterday in a case filed over Wednesday's clash between the BNP men and police in Nayapaltan.
The BNP rank and file, however, fear even Mosharraf could get arrested, and in that case, convener of Dhaka North City BNP Amanullah Aman, will be the chief guest.
"We want to say that we will hold the rally peacefully and in a systematic manner. If you want to protest against the autocratic regime, please join our rally," Mosharraf urged city dwellers.
Soon after Dhaka Metropolitan Police issued the permission around 3:00pm, BNP activists and supporters started gathering at the Golapbagh ground, which is about 2.8 acres. By the evening, there was a large crowd there and more people were joining in processions chanting slogans.
The ground was already overflowing with people last night and the crowd spilled over nearby streets. The whole area was reverberating with continuous slogans by BNP leaders and supporters.
There was another late evening twist. The Dhaka South City Corporation, which owns the ground, said it would give its decision on whether BNP could hold the rally there today. Late last night, it eventually gave the permission.
Many BNP leaders and activists reached the city over the last couple of days.
He added that he and several others deleted the photos and videos that would reveal their political affiliation.
"We downloaded the photos of Sheikh Hasina and other Awami League leaders to hoodwink the law enforcers into thinking that we were ruling party activists. And it worked," he said.
Mokhlesur Rahman, a Jubo Dal leader from Noakhali, said he along with 10 others reached Dhaka on Monday and checked into a hotel in Fakirapool.
"Four of my party men were arrested from there. So, I had to leave. I have been staying in Kamalapur Railway Station for the last two days," he claimed.
Leaders and activists of the Awami League and its associated bodies also marched through the streets in the city, chanting slogans against the BNP throughout yesterday.
Security measures have been beefed up around Golapbagh and the DMP placed 26 conditions on the BNP for holding the rally.
Harun Or Rashid, additional commissioner of DMP, said, "BNP wanted Golapbagh ground as their venue and our commissioner gave them the permission to hold the rally there."
He said they would implement the same security measures planned for the Suhrawardy Udyan at the Golapbagh ground.
"Our teams are working all over the area and monitoring the surrounding areas," he added.
The BNP rally in Dhaka will be the culmination of similar programmes across Bangladesh that drew large crowds from far and wide.
It had been holding rallies since October 12 protesting price hikes of essentials and fuel.
The political arena heated up in the last few days over the BNP not willing to have the rally at the Suhrawardy Udyan and the government showing no intention of allowing it to happen at Nayapaltan.
Police asked the BNP for alternative venues.
The BNP proposed Arambagh but police said that they would not allow rallies on any street.
As negotiations between the DMP and the BNP went on, party leaders and activists started gathering in front of the Nayapaltan party office. On Wednesday, police and BNP men engaged in a clash that left one killed and many injured. Police raided the BNP office and even barred Fakhrul from entering it.
The USA and the UK issued travel alerts for their citizens. A number of western countries and the UN issued statements, urging the government to allow the opposition parties to hold rallies.
On Thursday night, BNP leaders met DMP officials and both hinted at reaching a consensus over the venue.
The BNP held its standing committee meeting and decided that Golapbagh ground could be the venue. A BNP delegation met DMP officials in the afternoon yesterday before the official announcement was made.
With other BNP rallies turning out to be big shows despite hurdles on the way, its leaders in Dhaka were out to outdo their colleagues in other divisions.
This apparently triggered even stricter measures by law enforcers.
Public transport became thin on the streets yesterday. Traffic was light on Dhaka streets and fewer than usual buses entered Dhaka.
Checkpoints were set up at the entries to the capital as police continued to check all the vehicles. They interrogated drivers, passengers and searched their luggage. They also frisked pedestrians.
Chhatra League activists of Jahangirnagar University kept the Dhaka-Aricha highway blocked in front of the university for two and a half hours yesterday evening resulting in a 4km-long tailback.
In Abdullahpur, Sayedabad, and Gabtoli, this newspaper found that police did not allow any long-haul buses to enter Dhaka without being checked.
Helal Uddin, driver of a bus from Kishoreganj, said the passengers started panicking when armed police searched them at Abdullahpur.
Sharif Hasan came from Mymensingh to join the rally. After reaching the venue, he said, "No one can stop us. The government tried its best to foil our rally but couldn't. We will return home ousting the government."
BNP standing committee member Iqbal Hasan Mahmud Tuku said, "We are holding the rally at the cost of a life."
He said people will join the programme defying all odds and obstacles to show that they have no confidence in the government.