October 30, 2023
DHAKA – After enforcing its first nationwide hartal in eight years, BNP yesterday called a three-day rail, road, and waterways blockade across the country from Tuesday to Thursday.
The opposition party will enforce the blockade to protest the killings of its activists in police action and the arrests of party leaders and supporters, including Secretary General Mirza Fakhrul Islam Alamgir, over the last two days.
BNP Senior Joint Secretary General Ruhul Kabir Rizvi announced the agitation programme at a virtual press briefing from an undisclosed location in the evening.
Sunday’s countrywide hartal and the upcoming transport blockade mark a shift in the party’s stated strategy for its one-point movement, launched in July, to unseat the Awami League government and force it to hold the national election under a nonparty administration.
BNP, out of power for 17 years, has been holding rallies and road marches in Dhaka and elsewhere as part of its anti-government movement for the last one and a half years peacefully, drawing significant crowds.
Until the October 28 grand rally at the capital’s Nayapaltan, the party has been successful in keeping its street programmes peaceful despite provocative rhetoric by some AL leaders and occasional non-cooperation by law enforcers.
Through the non-violent movement since last year, the party has also been able to distance itself from the violent street programmes that it launched before the 2014 election. At the time, the party faced huge criticisms at home and abroad for violence and arson attacks to foil that election.
However, throughout its ongoing movement, BNP high-ups announced their street agitation programmes very carefully, and have been able to keep their activists in check during demonstrations.
But its high-stake October 28 rally suffered a setback as it suddenly turned violent, leaving a policeman and a BNP leader dead, and injuring scores more, as protestors clashed with cops. The day also saw a return of vandalism and arson attacks on vehicles.
Senior party leaders blame the government and law enforcement agencies for the “unexpected and planned attack” on the opposition leaders and activists.
They say Saturday’s turn of events has made them revisit their “go-slow” strategy to press home their demand. It has also prompted the party to immediately go for tougher programmes like blockade and hartal, although it was not in their plan, not for now at least.
After BNP was forced to abruptly end its rally in the face of police action, the party’s standing committee yesterday sat to weigh their options in the changed scenario.
Sources at the two-hour meeting say they had a plan to announce programmes like laying siege to important establishments from the Saturday’s grand rally. But the sudden violence has upset their plan and forced them to call hartal.
The decision to call hartal was made on the rally stage, just minutes before BNP leaders were forced to leave the venue in the face of police excesses, they add.
Party leaders say stray incidents may take place in big rallies like the one held on Saturday, which was joined by tens of thousands of BNP leaders and activists from Dhaka and elsewhere.
“But the way the police swung into action and lobbed sound grenades and teargas shells and fired rubber bullets indicate they had a plan to foil our rally,” Standing Committee Member Amir Khasru Mahmud Chowdhury told The Daily Star yesterday.
“We were not prepared for Saturday’s incident. We never even thought of it. But the way the police and ruling party activists attacked our rally, we were compelled to announce tougher programmes,” he added.
According to BNP leaders, the grand rally was attacked to demoralise the opposition camp as the government knew that BNP supporters were “unarmed,” said another senior BNP leader.
Still, BNP activists were able to fend off the attackers for about five hours, he added.
“We are hopeful about our success this time,” he said.
Party sources say the government used the rally to suppress the opposition party just weeks before the announcement of the election schedule.
“These are democratic programmes to oust the autocratic and fascist government. In the past, political parties enforced such programmes to press home their demand,” Amir Khasru said when asked why the party is now opting for hartal and blockade.
“By arresting our secretary general, the government has sent us a signal that it will arrest more of our leaders in the coming days. In this context, we have no way to look back,” another senior party leader told The Daily Star yesterday.