Friday, June 25, 2010

Insight into reasons behind the June 27 hartal

Reading about the upcoming hartal, I was curious as to why there was suddenly a return to the practice after a three-year hiatus. Rezaul Karim provides some insight, though, in today's Daily Star.

BNP opted for street agitation as it feels it failed in its secret bid to reach an understanding with the government that the latter would not make a move on Khaleda Zia's Cantonment house, and would withdraw the cases against the party chairperson and her two sons.

A highly placed BNP source told The Daily Star, on condition of anonymity, that his party had offered to refrain from street agitation in exchange for an assurance from ruling Awami League that the government would withdraw the "false" cases.

Soon after AL came to power in January last year, BNP said it would not announce hartals, and blockades.

AL's initial response was positive, indicating that it would not embark on tough actions against Khaleda and her family -- if BNP refrained from street protests, and from bringing Tarique and Koko back to the country and politics.

The ruling party's expectations echoed the expectations of some European countries that also had been asking BNP to keep a distance from Jamaat, and to refrain from trying to bring back Tarique Rahman into politics because of his tainted image.

Accordingly, till a few months back, BNP maintained a distance from Jamaat, and refrained from harsh criticism against the government, and street agitations.

The "friendly" gesture faced its first major blow in April last year, when the cabinet decided to cancel the lease of Khaleda's Cantonment house on grounds of a faulty lease.

The government took the decision against the backdrop of the Pilkhana tragedy, as it had information that Khaleda was secretly meeting army officers in her residence right after the mutiny.

After some initial war of words between the two parties, BNP renewed its demand that the ruling party should not harass Khaleda over her Cantonment house.

Soon both parties again developed an understanding on the matter. The issue of the Cantonment house went to the court, and it did not proceed further.

Things however started heating up again in December when BNP activists, during the party's council, strongly demanded return of Tarique Rahman, and withdrawal of the cases against him.

In February the government decided to change the name of Zia International Airport, and removed the word Zia from the names of more than 50 organisations in one day.

Amid a growing bitterness between the two parties, ruling party parliamentarian Sheikh Selim, and Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina herself made some adverse comments on Ziaur Rahman during the parliamentary session that ended in April this year.

By then, the internal power structure of BNP underwent a change. The right of centre party was now fully controlled and influenced by hardliner rightist leaders.

They succeeded in convincing Khaleda that the understanding with AL was not working, and it would not be wise for her to maintain the soft stance, and to keep away from Jamaat.

They also convinced her that the government would surely evict her from the Cantonment house, and would never allow Tarique to return to Bangladesh and join politics again.

They convinced her that the government would file more complicated cases against Tarique, implicating him in some heinous acts like the August 21 grenade attack that occurred during BNP's tenure.

These hardliners pursued Khaleda to restore ties with Jamaat to announce a hartal and other street agitations, in a bid to mount pressure on the government, so the move to evict her from the Cantonment house is halted; and the authorities, especially the Anti-corruption Commission, keeps away from proceeding with the cases against Tarique and Koko.

One of the hardliners, who is a prominent lawyer, convinced Khaleda that the court verdict regarding her Cantonment house might go against her, as the legal basis of the lease was indeed very weak, and the leasing was actually not done through due procedure.

That is why Khaleda's lawyers pressed for changing the court, and demonstrated inside the court to delay the verdict, BNP insiders said.

With the hardliners calling the shots in BNP, liberal leaders and workers of the party are now very unhappy with the recent rekindling of a warm relationship with Jamaat.

They feel it will not be possible for many of them to directly take a position in favour of BNP, as it restored its old ties with a party and people who have allegations of war crimes against them.

Meanwhile, BNP began a hectic move to develop its relationship with the diplomatic circle. Several former bureaucrats and diplomats have been assigned to regularly hold meetings with heads of foreign missions in Dhaka.

However, one of the important assigned leaders told this correspondent that they have yet to get any positive response from the foreign diplomats in favour of BNP's cause.

An East Asian country with a long history of relationship with BNP, rather advised the party leaders who met its diplomats, that they should reorganise the party on the basis of reconciliation.

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