BNP Chairperson Khaleda Zia's conspicuous silence on significant national issues including militant attacks, anti-militancy drives and hike in gas prices, as well as her absence from party programmes, have raised eyebrows within the rank and file of the party leadership.
Several BNP leaders claimed that the former prime minister has opted to 'observe silently' the outcome of a reported disquiet in the ruling Awami League.
BNP leaders close to Khaleda told the Bangla Tribune that most Awami League leaders are behaving like silent spectators even as Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina is campaigning for the next election.
Hasina's trusted aide, Public Administration Minister and former ruling party general secretary Syed Ashraful Islam, is not that active now.
Khaleda is monitoring the situation closely, BNP leaders say.
She issued a statement on March 28 condemning the militant attack in Sylhet that killed six people. Before that, she addressed a meeting of Zia Parishad representatives on January 21.
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In between, she did not attend any programme. Last month, she exchanged views with income tax lawyers but did not interact with the media.
Senior BNP leaders claimed that the party had gained huge popularity before the January 5, 2014 polls which it boycotted for “logical reasons.” On the election's first anniversary, Khaleda called for a blockade programme that eventually became 'unpopular'.
The BNP has fallen behind its rival Awami League and the BNP chairperson is waiting to overcome the fall, they added.
When asked about Khaleda's silence, BNP Standing Committee member Mahbubur Rahman said: “She certainly has thought about when she should speak. She is not speaking much (publicly) may be to organise the party and strengthen it organisationally.”
But she is delivering speeches and issuing statements, he added.
BNP Vice Chairman Abdullah Al Noman blamed the government for Khaleda's silence. “The government is not letting us rehearse for the party chairperson's programmes. It is not allowing us to bring out processions and even denied us permission to hold a rally of freedom fighters.”
“We have to adopt various tactics to tackle the situation. The chairperson is observing the situation and monitoring the district committees,” he added.
A source close to Khaleda said that the BNP chief felt the next national election would be a replay of the 2014 polls. “The BNP will sit out the next election if it becomes certain that the government is planning to organise a one-sided election,” the source added.
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But Noman said that the situation could be different this time.
According to a highly placed source in the BNP the party's policymakers were internally prepared to organise rallies and programmes. The party also planned to bring Khaleda at all the programmes.
The source said that once a programme is observed or enforced, it is important to maintain continuity.
Noman said: “It seems the government won't be able to handle the BNP if the party observes these programmes. The government's internal situation is not very good.”
Meanwhile, the BNP chief took part in a meeting on March 12 with her party's well-wishers who had been staying at a distance for nearly six months. One of the advices she received was to tour the country as soon as possible.
Ganashasthya Kendra Trustee member Zafrullah Chowdhury expressed indignation at the BNP standing committee when speaking about Khaleda's silence.
“The stupid standing committee is responsible for her silence. Everyone in the committee save their skins by leaving everything to Khaleda Zia. Why are they tight-lipped?”
He continued: “Why can't they pursue programmes themselves? Why can’t they say that they will hit the streets this week?
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“The situation has changed to some extent after the Comilla [City Corporation] polls victory. Senior leaders could have gone to congratulate Khaleda Zia. They should eschew their 'nawabi mentality' since they have to reach out to the people.”
Zafrullah also blamed the government. “The government has established a police state. It will naturally try to suppress the BNP since it is not a democratic government.
“But [the BNP] has to overcome the government [obstacles]. The people are ready. [The BNP] should reach out to them.”
However, pro-BNP intellectual Emajuddin Ahmed feels Khaleda's silence is her personal decision.
“We advised her when we met. I can't say anything more,” he said.