BNP top brass and supporters are now spending anxious days over Chairperson Khaleda Zia’s planned return to Bangladesh against the backdrop of sudden political volatility and the arrest warrants issued against her this week.
Many leaders of the party are also concerned about her political future due to a number of reasons, including her health, Awami League’s hard-line position on BNP and the recent crackdown on the top leaders of the BNP’s major political ally, Bangladesh Jamaat-e-Islami.
Khaleda Zia has thrice postponed her return to Bangladesh from a trip to the UK. Under the circumstances, some leaders have expressed their fear that Khaleda’s return home may be delayed further.
They also are speculating whether the Awami League government is trying to give a final push to driver her out of the political arena through the latest batch of arrest warrants.
Several leaders alleged that the government was using the judiciary against BNP and its leaders as part of a conspiracy to prevent the party from taking part in the next national election.
Also Read-Arrest warrant issued against BNP chief Khaleda Zia
They claimed the courts had issued the warrants for Khaleda’s arrest facing political pressure from the ruling Awami League.
In this week alone, three courts issued arrest warrants against Khaleda.
The first was issued by a Comilla court last Monday in a case filed over an arson attack that had killed eight people in February 2015. Two Dhaka courts issued the other warrants on Thursday in as many cases – one of them is the Zia Orphanage Trust corruption case and the other a defamation case.
After the warrants were issued, BNP and its allies held several emergency meetings in Dhaka and across the country. The sole agenda of the meeting was to decide the next course of action for the party and the 20-party alliance if Khaleda gets arrested, according to sources.
Talking to the Dhaka Tribune, many central BNP and grassroots level leaders and supporters have said that they did not know what would happen if such a situation were to occur.
The BNP chairperson is currently in London undergoing treatment for various illnesses while staying at the home of her eldest son and BNP Senior Vice-Chairman Tarique Rahman.
Also Read-BNP calls demo next Sunday protesting arrest warrants against Khaleda
Khaleda had gone to the United Kingdom in July for a medical check-up with an unspecified return date.
Since then, the former prime minister missed three return schedules due to various reasons. But BNP’s Assistant International Affairs Secretary Rumin Farhana told the Dhaka Tribune that October 22 has now been set as the new date for her return.
However, BNP Secretary General Mirza Fakhrul Islam Alamgir said he was not aware of that schedule.
Meanwhile, as part of a contingency plan, top BNP leaders have started thinking about creating a co-chairman post as an alternative in case Khaleda is arrested, said party insiders.
They said that before the next polls or in the face of any uncertain situation, BNP may appoint Tarique and/or his wife Zobaida Rahman in that post, if necessary.
A number of senior leaders believe that Zubaida is capable of revamping and rejuvenating the crisis-riddled party through mass communication before the general election set to be held between late 2018 and early 2019.
Regarding the government’s alleged conspiracy to stop BNP from participating in the next polls, Secretary General Mirza Fakhrul told the Dhaka Tribune: “The Awami League government has the wrong idea.
“Any election without BNP will not be accepted by the people of the country and the international community. We have faced this type of conspiracy before,” he said.
Fakhrul also said that he does not think the government has the guts to arrest Khaleda. “The nation will not tolerate her arrest.”
Meeting with diplomats
On Wednesday evening, in absence of Khaleda, BNP leaders held a closed-door meeting with several Dhaka-based diplomats from different countries, including the US, the UK and Germany.
Sources said the party had sought support from friendly countries.
Assistant International Affairs Secretary Rumin Farhana, who was in that meeting among others, told the Dhaka Tribune that they were not afraid of the government conspiracy.
“With the people on our side, BNP is ready to face any kind of plot against it.”
About the warrant issued in Zia Orphanage Trust graft case on Thursday, Anti-Corruption Commission lawyer Mosharraf Hossain Kajol told the Dhaka Tribune that Khaleda Zia had been skipping court hearings for the last three months. “She also went abroad without informing the court.”
As a result, he said, the court issued the arrest warrant in line with the law in order to continue the trial. “Now, police will carry out the order.”
Supreme Court Bar Association President and pro-BNP lawyer Advocate Zainul Abedin, however, said that the BNP chief will appear before the court when she returns from London.
“Chairperson of a major party like BNP will certainly not go into hiding to avoid arrest,” he said.
Zainul said Khaleda also had an appointment with the doctor in London on Thursday afternoon. “We told the court about this, but court rejected our petition and issued the warrant.”
He said that senior lawyers of the party will sit together to decide the next course of legal action after consulting with Khaleda.
Awami League rejects plot theory
Awami League leaders, however, have denied the allegation of conspiring against BNP, saying the courts issued the arrest warrants against Khaleda Zia according to the law.
Abdur Rahman, joint general secretary of the ruling party, said: “Awami League had nothing to do with the warrants. This is a matter of the court.
He added: “We are optimistic about organising a fair election and we hope that BNP will participate.”
Mohibul Hassan Chowdhoury Nowfel, one of the organising secretaries of Awami League, echoed Rahman’s comments regarding the warrants.
“If Khaleda had followed proper procedures during the trial, then the court would not have issued the arrest warrant,” said Nowfel, a lawyer by profession.