Several top BNP leaders shared the stage with Dr Kamal Hossain and Prof Badruddoza Chowdhury at a citizens' rally in the capital yesterday and extended full support to Jatiya Oikya Prokriya's three-point demand including formation of a polls-time neutral government.
The Jatiya Oikya Prokriya, a platform led by Dr Kamal, issued an ultimatum from the rally for the demands to be met by September 30.
The other two demands are effective steps for reconstituting the Election Commission and dissolution of parliament before the announcement of the election schedule.
The rally was also joined by leaders of nine other components of the BNP-led 20-party alliance, Juktafront led by Badruddoza Chowdhury, Jatiya Samajtantrik Dal led by ASM Abdur Rab, Nagorik Oikya led by Mahmudur Rahman Manna and left leaning Ganosamhati Andolon.
This was the first time since the 2014 general election that they were seen together on one stage. The development came three months before the next parliamentary polls.
The leaders voiced support for the demands and held their joined hands aloft, urging a greater national unity among all democratic forces.
Representatives of some smaller political parties and some civil society members also joined the rally, organised by Jatiya Oikya Prokriya as part of its efforts to forge a greater national unity to ensure a “functional democracy” through a credible national election.
The Oikya Prokriya also announced a decision to hold rallies across the country from October 1 to involve people in its unity process.
Engineer Sheikh Muhammad Shahidullah, convener of the National Committee to Protect Oil, Gas and Mineral Resources, Power and Ports, read out a declaration, while Dr Kamal presided over the meeting, held at the Mahanagar Natya Mancha.
The declaration called for formation of committees under the banner of “greater national unity” in all districts, upazilas, unions and wards, comprised of leaders and activists of political parties, individuals, civil society members and people from all walks of life, who believe in the spirit of the Liberation War, to realise the demands through united and peaceful programme.
Portraying a sorry state of the country, it stated that there are no freedom of speech and freedom of assembly at present and people are deprived of their constitutional rights.
The rally organisers said they had wanted to arrange it at the Suhrawardy Udyan. But they could not do so as police did not give them permission.
The process for “national unity” saw light on August 20, when B Chowdhury and Dr Kamal announced they had decided to work jointly in the “interest of the nation”.
On September 15, the two leaders formally announced forging a “greater national unity” to ensure that people elect their representatives through a fair election.
And the BNP, which had boycotted the 2014 national election and remained neither in the opposition nor in power for the first time since 1991, has long been trying to build up a national unity among opposition political parties.
With its chief Khaleda Zia in jail since February, several top leaders of the party in recent weeks sat with Dr Kamal and B Chowdhury for waging a movement against the government to realise their common demands.
Addressing the gathering yesterday, BNP Secretary General Mirza Fakhrul Islam Alamgir said, “We must get united. We've made a good progress over forging of the national unity through this rally. We hope we'll be able to realise this very soon.”
Saying that most leaders at the rally made almost similar demands, including installation of a neutral election-time government through discussions among political parties, and dissolution of parliament for holding the next polls in a fair and credible manner, Fakhrul called upon all to launch a united movement to force the government to meet their demand.
He also demanded release of BNP Chairperson Khaleda Zia and all political prisoners and said the government is now implicating their party leaders and activists in “ghostly” cases.
Yesterday's rally declaration too demanded ensuring Khaleda's legal rights as “she has been jailed unfairly by hindering the normal process of law”.
BNP standing committee members Khandaker Mosharrof Hossain, Moudud Ahmed and Abdul Moyeen Khan, Gonoshasthaya Kendra founder Zafrullah Chowdhury and barrister Mainul Hosein, among others, spoke at the rally.
Addressing as the chief guest, Prof B Chowdhury said, “We think our efforts will succeed with today's presence.... Now it was time for putting up resistance and realising our demands.”
He asked why opposition political parties need to take permission from police to hold rallies while the ruling party can do it anywhere anytime.
“We'll hold rallies by taking permission from people, not from police, in the days to come,” said the former president.
Dr Kamal, also chief of Gonoforum, said they are trying for the national unity to ensure a “functional democracy”, neutral enforcement of law and restoration of people's constitutional rights.
“The public response to our call is tremendous as people are united over the basic issues. The time has now come to unite the like mined parties. I believe our efforts will yield positive outcome.”
The jurist said ousting a political party or alliance and bringing another political party or alliance in power will not be the aim of this national unity.
Rather, he said, the main objectives of the unity will be ensuring equal opportunity for all in the light of the constitution, reforming the three organs of the state -- legislative, executive and judiciary -- to ensure people's political empowerment.
He alleged some people are sensing conspiracy behind the national unity process and suspecting that it is aimed at going to power.
Dr Kamal, one of the architects of the constitution said, “Bangabandhu had given me the responsibility to formulate the constitution of the just-liberated country. It's my best achievement. Personally, I have nothing else to get. As a political activist, it's my sacred duty to ensure empowerment of people as per the constitution.”