A game of cat and mouse

Sunday, July 24th, 2011

In happier times: Sheikh Hasina and Khaleda Zia during the anti-Ershad demonstrations of 1990.



Shamim Ahmad

In an apparent change to the modus operandi of her anti-government movement, opposition leader Khaleda Zia is now pondering a “Tahrir Square” style popular uprising to bring down the government.


The new strategy is being mooted by the former prime minister after enforcing a series of nationwide shutdowns early this month and last month to ventilate her party BNP’s protest against the omission of the constitutional provision of the non-party caretaker administration to watch over the future general elections.


What factors prompted Khaleda to abruptly change her strategy, after she said the government would not be overthrown by any hartal, siege or burning but through peaceful popular uprising? Political analysts attribute various reasons to Khaleda’s changed strategy. Firstly, though the 24-hour to 30-hour non-stop hartal was by and large successful from the opposition point of view, it had sparked off criticisms mainly from the business community.


Secondly, her party leaders and workers failed to build up any resistance during the past hartals in the face of tough actions by police force disallowing pickets and processions. As a result the BNP activists were forced to stay indoors.


Thirdly, Khaleda may have thought that the third force may step in taking advantage of the disturbance caused by the non-stop hartal. Fourthly, other parties like Prof Badruddoza’s Bikalpa Dhara, Dr Kamal Hossain’s Gano Forum, Kader Siddique’s Krishak Sramik Janata League or Col (retd) Oli’s LDP with whom BNP is now trying to make political understanding do not like hartal politics.


And finally, the BNP chair wants to see a huge number of party workers along with the people on the street to join the oust-government campaign.


Under her changed strategy, she has initiated quiet parleys with political parties and groups outside her 4-party alliance to forge a greater unity on minimum points like restoration of the caretaker government, soaring prices of essentials that has already battered the poor people, and missteps of the government.


Before staging the mass hunger strike on July 13, Khaleda sent her emissaries to Prof Badruddoza Chowdhury, Col Oil and others to join the strike and express their solidarity. Although these leaders did not turn up at the strike venue at the Engineers Institution, some sent their party representatives or expressed solidarity through statement.


On July 19, a BNP delegation headed by acting secretary general Mirza Fakhrul Islam Alamgir met Krishak Sramik Janata League president Kader Siddique at his Mohammadpur house and handed over to him a formal invitation from Khaleda Zia to have one-to-one parley over the evolving political situation after the 15th amendment.


Accepting the invitation, Kader Siddique told reporters he will meet her any day at her residence. He said the country is passing through a very difficult time and appreciated Khaleda’s move to sit with the parties outside the government.


He said 95 percent people want general elections under non-party caretaker government abolished by the 15th amendment. Asked if his party will join BNP as an ally or launch simultaneous movement in the future, he reserved his comment till outcome of the meeting with Khaleda.


Mirza Fakhrul said the BNP chairperson had already invited political parties to forge a greater unity to face the evolving political situation and protect the Constitution. He hoped Kader Siddique would make an effective contribution to forging greater political unity.


As part of the unity process, the next day the BNP team met with LDP president Col (retd) Oli Ahmed who deserted BNP in 2006.


BNP insiders say the party leadership will hold similar indoor parleys with other parties including Badruddoza Chowdhury’s Bikalpadhara and Dr Kamal Hossain’s Gano Forum with formal proposals from Khaleda Zia to close the differences among them and forge a  greater unity in the opposition camp. Both Badruddoza Chowdhury and Dr Kamal Hossain oppose the abolishment of the non-party caretaker system.


Alongside the unity initiatives, Khaleda from the hunger strike venue announced that after Eid, the next course of the movement will be declared. She spoke about the popular anti-government uprising as is happening in some Arab countries.


She warned of the government’s intention to hold a stage-managed Hasina-Ershad style next election and said election sans caretaker will not be allowed and any election without BNP’s participation would not be acceptable.


The eight-hour mass hunger strike led by Khaleda was basically organised to protest police assault on opposition chief whip Zainul Abdin Farroque at Manik Mia Avenue on the first day of the 48-hour hartal on July 6.


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