Amid blockades, BNP grassroots wonder if election boycott is the solution

Demonstrations in support of the party’s blockades or shutdowns are rare as many of the leaders are behind bars over violence, or in hiding

Published : 16 Nov 2023, 08:40 PM
Updated : 16 Nov 2023, 08:40 PM

The enthusiasm BNP activists had for their antigovernment protests before violent clashes with police during the Oct 28 rally in Dhaka has seemingly petered out amid arrests of their leaders.

The frustration among them is apparent on the party’s Facebook page, with a fall in the number of Likes, comments and shares.

Demonstrations in support of the party’s blockades or shutdowns are rare as many of the leaders are behind bars over violence, or in hiding.

The programmes to push the government by disrupting daily life appear to have failed as most people are working as usual. Offices remain open while goods transportation faces no major disruption.

Businesses do not feel the need to call for a political consensus as long as the situation remains calmer than it had been before and after the 2014 polls boycotted by the BNP.

“How long will we continue like this? We had thought something would happen; the government would open the path for a consensus instead of holding a unilateral election. But nothing has happened,” said Rafiqul Islam, a supporter of the party.

His elder brother Shariful Islam, an activist of the party’s youth front Jatiyatabadi Jubo Dal in Noakhali, was arrested after he came to Dhaka for the Oct 28 rally. In total, nine people from their area have been arrested, according to Rafiqul.

After the BNP failed to stop the government from holding the 10th parliamentary polls in 2014 through violent protests, it tried to topple the Sheikh Hasina administration by enforcing a monthslong blockade marred by deaths in firebombings of buses.

The party contested the 2018 election after the jailing of its Chairperson Khaleda Zia on corruption charges, but alleged widespread irregularities and launched protests to oust the government before the upcoming polls.

But, the policy of using boycott as a tool to pressure the government has drawn criticism from inside the party.

Hafizuddin Ahmed, a vice-chairman of the BNP, recently said the party should contest the election, reiterating his thought that boycotting the 2014 polls was a mistake.

After the formation of the Trinamool BNP, a breakaway faction of former leaders of the BNP, two members of its Central Executive Committee announced that they would take part in the election and more than 100 others were with them. One of them, Ahsan Habib, is from Tangail’s Delduar.

“The BNP cannot take its movement forward with the leaders in hiding. It must find a way to continue protests with people’s participation,” said Anwar Shikder, a supporter from Habib’s area Delduar.

“Two of the leaders have said they will stand in the election as independents. If you try to search, you’ll find more like them who are not saying this publicly now,” Anwar said.

Another BNP Activist, Sohrab Uddin from Thakurgaon, thinks staying away from the vote is not a solution to the political crisis in Bangladesh.

“We must think where the BNP is heading with leaders in hiding,” he said.

Sohrab believes the ruling Awami League deliberately created a situation to keep the BNP away from the election.

“So, the BNP should change its strategy. It can’t be that they [Awami League] will contest elections alone all the time,” he said.

“I know many in the party will call me an agent of the government, but the reality is that the BNP is much more united in its movement against the government than any other time in the past,” Sohrab said.

Mahbub Uddin Khokon, a joint secretary general of the BNP, also said the government has formulated a “blueprint” to keep the BNP away from the election.

Asked what the opposition party was doing to deal with the ruling party’s “blueprint”, he said: “We must handle the issue on the streets. There’s no other way.”

He could not detail how the street protests will bring success.

Senior Joint Secretary General Ruhul Kabir Rizvi, who has been issuing video statements from an undisclosed location since the Oct 28 rally, said it is the government’s duty to create an environment conducive for talks, not through arrests and other forms of intimidation.

He threatened tough action against party leaders who defy orders from the central leadership.

[Writing in English by Osham-ul-Sufian Talukder]