After a Dhaka court on Thursday sentenced BNP chief Khaleda Zia to five years in prison in a graft case, leading the party and mobilizing its activists during the upcoming general elections has become a major concern for the BNP top brass.
The ruling Awami League thought that once the verdict was delivered, BNP men would resort to violence but that scenario never came to pass as Khaleda repeatedly called on party activists to have patience and stage demonstrations in a peaceful and democratic manner.
BNP’s political maneuvering after the verdict is indicating that the party will stick to the path outlined by Khaleda, as party leaders are emphasizing peaceful protest programs, with an eye on the next polls slated for December.
Seeking anonymity, several top BNP leaders told the Dhaka Tribune that as soon as Khaleda understood that she might be convicted in the graft case and sent to jail, she set her party’s next course of action well ahead of the verdict, and issued necessary directives to BNP leaders about what they should do in her absence.
Calling on them to stay united and face any danger together, Khaleda instructed BNP leaders and activists not to resort to violence over the verdict, no matter what the provocation, they added.
However, Awami League has been trying to uncover answers to some questions as to why BNP, which had courted immense criticism over its previous violent and destructive activities, is in non-violent mood this time, and what caused its leadership to change their modus operandi.
BNP sources said leaders of the party are now focusing on non-violent programs to save their strength for the polls.
Securing Khaleda’s bail from the High Court and participating in the election are the two vital tasks the party is emphasizing at this moment, they added.
The ruling party has already started its electoral campaign for the polls through Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s visit to Sylhet on January 30.
Asked their electoral campaigns, BNP leaders said their chairperson’s visit to Sylhet on February was also part of the campaign though they did not formally announce it.
“Our electoral campaign has already started through our chairperson’s visit, that has greatly inspired leaders and activists at the grassroots level,” a BNP leader said.
BNP leaders at loggerheads over Tarique
A faction of BNP leaders said if Khaleda fails to secure bail and could not participate in the election, BNP acting Chairman Tarique Rahman would lead the party in collaboration with Standing Committee members.
However, as he is staying abroad and is also convicted in the same case, another faction thinks that leading the party from abroad will be a difficult job if not an impossible one.
Party insiders said as Tarique is convicted in several cases and has faced a lot of flak over numerous allegations including money laundering, some of the Standing Committee members and senior leaders do not support the idea that he leads the party in Khaleda’s absence, even though he is widely admired by leaders and activists at the grassroots level.
They have also voiced their objections over picking Tarique as the acting chief of BNP, saying that choosing a fugitive convict like Tarique as acting chairman brought dishonor upon the party chief and former prime minister, Khaleda.
Some other leaders said they have no objections to accepting Tarique as their leader. But they added that he should not have been made the acting chief so quickly, because, according to them, BNP might once again draw criticism from different quarters over the move.
Syed Manzoorul Islam, a professor of English at Dhaka University, said: “People still hold a negative view of Tarique Rahman over his previous [mis]deeds. On top of that they don’t even know about his prudence and leadership capacity.”
Also it would be difficult for Tarique to fully understand the country’s real political scenarios as he is living abroad, he added.
Tareque Shamsur Rehman, a professor of International Relations at Jahangirnagar University, said: “Popular support of Khaleda has not yet waned, even though she has been convicted in a corruption case. People of the country still have a positive outlook about her.”
According to recent media reports, Tarique’s wife Zubaida Rahman, who is currently living with him in London, might take charge of the party.
However, as she is yet to get directly involved in politics and build her political image in the party, Zubaida may not be able to lead BNP at this moment.
Given all these factors, a large majority of BNP leaders and activists think that Khaleda is still the best choice for them.
Khaleda to remain at the helm of BNP
BNP Secretary General Mirza Fakhrul Islam Alamgir said Khaleda would remain at the helm of their party, but they would carry out their regular activities in consultation with the acting chairman, Tarique.
Col (retd) Oli Ahmed, president of Liberal Democratic Party, a member party of the BNP-led alliance, said what is the most important task for BNP and the alliance is to ensure the quick release of Khaleda.
In reply to reporters’ query at a press conference on Saturday, the former BNP leader also said there are enough options before BNP, and no one should be worried over its leadership crisis.
‘Government made political blunder’
BNP Standing Committee member Moudud Ahmed claimed that their party would benefit more from the trial court’s verdict than the ruling Awami league.
“The government has made a ‘political blunder’ by convicting our leader Khaleda Zia in the case.”
“If possible, we will file an appeal against the lower court’s verdict today.
She [Khaleda] will be able to take part in the polls until the final judgment is delivered by the Supreme Court,” Moudud added.
Some portions of this article were taken from banglatribune.com