Concern grows amid frenzy of political rhetoric over BNP's December 10 Dhaka rally

Concern grows amid frenzy of political rhetoric over BNP’s December 10 Dhaka rally

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Ariful Islam of Noakhali had planned to go to Dhaka for work-related matters around December 10.

They first thought of bringing their teenage children with them as their school year has already ended.

But later, Ariful shelved his plan to bring them together fearing for the children’s safety.

Instead, he himself came ahead of schedule and wants to complete his work in Dhaka so that he can leave the city before 10 December.

Ashfaqul Haq’s daughter’s final examination of the school year is scheduled on December 10. He is worried about his daughter’s safety that day.

Both Ariful and Ashraful have common fears.

They are worried that the city of Dhaka could turn into ground zero of something sinister after hearing and reading rhetoric and veiled threats from both sides of the political divide centering on the planned Dhaka divisional rally of the BNP in the capital.

Not only are these concerned parents but people from all walks of life who were interviewed for this article are also concerned about the possible violence on the day.

“Whether you’re going to work on public transport or having tea with your colleagues, you’ll hear buzz about [the BNP rally]Ismat Ara Jolly, a student at Sher-e-Bangla Agricultural University in Dhaka, said.

“For the past few weeks, the media blitz of ministers and BNP leaders gives me the impression that there is a good chance of violence on that day or the day before. I have seen police and plainclothes vigilantes in my neighborhood. I don’t think it’s normal.”

However, such a frenzy of public anxiety-provoking rhetoric around a specific day in Bangladesh’s political history is not unusual.

Abdul Jalil, the then general secretary of the Awami League, had a similar effect on the public on April 30, 2004, when he showed a “trump card” to topple the BNP-led government. However, this threat turned out to be futile.

This time, some central and local BNP leaders suggested that the country would be run by their president, Khaleda Zia, who has been barred from attending political events due to suspended sentence terms in corruption cases.

Some suggested that she might attend the rally, while others said that Tariq Rahman, Khaleda’s son and acting chairman of the party who lives in London, would return home that day. Tariq has been convicted on several corruption and criminal counts and the government has been actively trying for years to extradite him from the UK.

Some senior leaders like Amanullah Aman and Shahiduddin Chowdhary Ani had said that the BNP would get the government to resign that day.

Bangladesh politics usually heats up during the period between November and February, but this was not the case in the last few years as the opposition could not mount an anti-government movement after the 2018 elections. The COVID-19 pandemic also disrupted political plans and activities.

But as the Sheikh Hasina administration faces a major economic windfall in the midst of a global crisis, as the next election is just a year away, the BNP government is adamant on bowing to its demand for an election-time caretaker government. It seems

General Secretary Mirza Fakhrul Islam Alamgir has said that he will not contest the next election if Hasina does not hand over power to a non-party government.

What do BNP leaders say

The event, scheduled in Dhaka on 10 December, will cap a two-month-long series of BNP rallies in eight major cities.

In previous divisional rallies, grassroots leaders said they wanted the party to establish a “now or never” approach among the members.

Mirza Fakhrul also indicated to announce a strategy to this effect at the December 10 rally.

“Till now, we have been running a campaign to remove the miseries and troubles of the people. But now we want to run a campaign to topple the government,” said Rubina Akhtar, a member of the party’s women’s wing. Party stalwarts will announce the campaign at the Dhaka rally.

Some BNP leaders accused the ruling party of orchestrating the stampede by centering the Dhaka rally.

In a recent rally, Mirza Fakhrul said that the way the ruling party is talking about the rally, “if it is not a gathering of people, but a preparation for battle”.

Abdullah Al Noman, vice-chairman of the opposition party and coordinator of the 10 December rally, attempted to play down the campaign centering the rally.

“It is a divisional rally, not a national one. We have organized such rallies in other divisional headquarters in the last two months. It is a part of the chain,” he said.

He said, ‘The way the leaders of the ruling party are talking, it seems they are scared of it. We have not spread any fear or panic. Yet if they are scared, what can we do about it?”

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