BNP has finally welcomed the mass uprising centering Shahbag but with a caution that the government shouldn’t be allowed to draw political mileage from the movement that is demanding death penalty for war criminals.
The main opposition party has also urged the protesters to broaden their demand and include the call for revival of the non-partisan caretaker government ahead of the next general election.
The party’s National Standing Committee, the highest policy-making body, in a statement, expressed the main opposition’s stance on the continued agitation on its eight day.
The party believes the government is trying to use the protest to serve its own interest, as Shahbagh demonstrators are chanting ‘Joy Bangla’, the slogan widely used during the 1971 Liberation War and later by the Awami League.
The main opposition party also expressed hope that the protesters would also include among other things the provision of the revival of the non-partisan caretaker government in their charter of demands alongside the execution of war criminals and a ban Jamaat-e-Islami, a key ally of the BNP.
BNP leaders had initially avoided making any comment on the mass protest. Later on several party leaders, including Standing Committee member ASM Hannan Shah, termed the Shahbagh protest ‘a drama staged by the government’.
However, BNP Vice-Chairman and freedom fighter Sadeque Hossain Khoka on several occasions paid tribute to the youths staging the mass protest.
BNP Joint Secretary General Ruhul Kabir Rezvi on Monday said the BNP was watching the protest with a positive outlook.
Following his comment, BNP Chairperson Khaleda Zia met the members of the Standing Committee on Monday evening. This was followed by a statement from the policy-making forum on Tuesday, which was signed by Rezvi.
The statement said: “For a week numerous youths have been staging a sit-in at Shahbagh demanding that all war criminals be hanged to death. Several other proposals are made from the protest programme.”
“It is expected that the young generation will be concerned about different problems of the nation and take logical and effective stance on them. So we welcome the youths’ initiative.”
The statement, however, underlined BNP’s doubt about the ‘non-political’ character of the Shahbagh movement.
“Though the gathering is being claimed to be neutral, there is an effort to keep the leadership of the protest confined to a particular political quarter.”
About the chanting of ‘Joy Bangla’ slogan by the Shahbagh protesters, BNP said: “The wartime slogan widely used during 1971 has lost its acceptability after it was severely politicised in the post-independence period.”
“Questions have arisen in the mind of the people about the neutrality of the protest as this slogan is being chanted repeatedly.”
The BNP said it wants to hear the protesters demanding justice for Siraj Sikder and other opposition leaders and freedom fighters killed after the Liberation War.
It also wants voices from among the Shahbagh protesters demanding justice for abducted BNP leaders M Ilias Ali and Chowdhury Alam, slain worker leader Aminul Islam and murdered tailor from old Dhaka, Biswajit Das.
Besides, the main opposition party also urged the Shahbagh protesters to speak against “high-profile scams” by Hall-Mark and Destiny groups and the “crash” in the capital market.
“The on-going protest will be further glorified if these matters touch the sentiments of the youths and (their trials) are incorporated in their list of demands,” the statement said.
The statement clarified the party’s position on the trial of war criminals saying that the BNP is in support of the judgments.
“BNP has been long demanding transparency, objectivity and international standards in the trials. The verdict would not have been so controversial had the BNP’s demands been respected.”
The BNP Standing Committee vowed to hold ‘neutral and fair’ trials of all crimes including those against humanity, once they come to power.
About the call to boycott all institutions including television stations and newspapers supporting Jamaat-e-Islami, the main opposition said: “Such intolerance and anarchy will plunge the country into a deep crisis.”