The BNP has demanded that the government release its chief Khaleda Zia before the schedule for the upcoming national election is announced.
There will be no polls keeping the BNP chairperson behind bars, said senior leaders at a huge rally in the capital yesterday marking the party's 40th founding anniversary.
Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina must resign and parliament has to be dissolved before the election schedule is declared so that a congenial atmosphere for inclusive and meaningful elections could be created, they said.
Their other demands include: release of all political prisoners, withdrawal of the “false” cases filed against them, formation of an polls-time non-partisan government, deployment of armed forces during the polls and reconstitution of the Election Commission.
In front of the BNP's Naya Paltan office where leaders and activists of the party and its associate bodies gathered for the rally, the BNP's top leaders said people would not let any election be held if the demands were not met.
They said the government was trying to use Electronic Voting Machines so that they could manipulate the polls and stay in power.
They urged all, including political parties and institutions, to forge a greater unity to ensure “restoration of democracy” by removing the "autocratic and undemocratic government”.
Although the rally was scheduled for 2:00pm, leaders and activists were seen thronging the venue much ahead of time. They chanted slogans and carried placards, festoons, and banners criticising the government. Many banners and placards were about Khaleda's release from jail and withdrawal of “false” cases against BNP acting chairperson Tarique Rahman.
Braving the summer heat, they filled the street between Fakirerpool and Nightingale intersections. At both ends, the police had parked riot trucks equipped with water cannons, prison vans and armoured vehicles.
“There will be no election in the country keeping Khaleda Zia in jail,” said BNP Secretary General Mirza Fakhrul Islam Alamgir, who presided over the programme.
The government must take steps for releasing Khaleda and ensure her better treatment. If something bad happened to her, the government would be held responsible, he said.
“We will have to turn around, have courage and strength in our hearts. We don't want to see our chairperson in jail anymore.
“There should be no division among us. Let's all come forward and forge a greater unity to save the country and restore democracy. Let's all defeat the autocratic government and establish the rule of the people,” he said.
Fakhrul welcomed the recent initiative of Prof AQM Badruddoza Chowdhury and Dr Kamal Hossain for a united movement for a free and fair election.
The youths liberated the country and the youths have risen again and if necessary, they would shed blood again to free Khaleda, he said.
He alleged that the government, lacking in public support, was hatching plots to hang on to power. “Now, they're trying to use Electronic Voting Machines in the polls to keep their grip on power as they know people won't protect them. People have abandoned the Awami League and it has now become politically bankrupt.”
After Khaleda had been sent to jail on February 8, the government began hatching a new plot against BNP Senior Vice-Chairman Tarique Rahman, he claimed.
“As if they are the judge, ruling party leaders are saying that Tarique will be convicted in the August 21 case [filed in connection with the grenade attack on an AL rally in 2004].”
He alleged that the government was trying to influence the case proceedings.
“We would like to clearly say that people won't accept any verdict of conspiracy. They'll rather give a befitting reply to it.”
Chief guest at the rally, BNP standing committee member Khandaker Mosharraf Hossain said people would not allow the ruling party to implement “its plot to have another January-5-like election”.
“The BNP, with people behind it, will foil such plots.”
He said the government was unfairly keeping Khaleda in jail to keep her and the BNP away from the polls.
“But there will be no participatory election in the country without Khaleda Zia and the BNP. The government must release her before the election.
“The Awami League won't release her willingly. We must free her through a strong movement.”
BNP standing committee member Moudud Ahmed said it would not be possible to free Khaleda through a legal battle; “Street movement is the only way to have her freed from jail.
“We need to get ready to take to the streets. We'll have to go to the polls after freeing our leader [Khaleda]. We'll carry out the movement for our leader's release and for our demand for installing a non-party neutral election-time government. We will also prepare for the election at the same time.”
BNP standing committee members, Jamiruddin Sircar, Mirza Abbas, Goyeshwar Chandra Roy and Amir Khosru Mahmud Chowdhury, among others, addressed the rally.