Addressing tens of thousands of opposition supporters who gathered in the capital defying government restrictions, BNP Chairperson Khaleda Zia yesterday gave the Hasina administration a 90-day ultimatum to announce the restoration of the caretaker system.
“Make a formal announcement restoring the non-party caretaker government system by June 10, or we will announce tougher programmes from a rally on June 11,” Khaleda said in a warning to the Awami League-led grand alliance government. Amid roaring chants of anti-government slogans, she called a countrywide dawn-to-dusk shutdown for March 29 to protest the “mass detentions” of opposition activists and “unprecedented harassment” that people had suffered because of the government’s blocking roads and waterways in the last few days. Khaleda, leader of the opposition in parliament, also announced that her party and allies would stage demonstrations in the district, upazila and divisional headquarters in April and May. The programmes will protest price hike of essentials, shortage of gas and electricity, and deteriorating law and order. They will also press for measures to make fertilisers and farming apparatus available to farmers. Yesterday’s grand rally was the culmination of Cholo, Cholo Dhaka Cholo (March to Dhaka) programme. The BNP chief announced the programme from a Chittagong rally on January 9 to mount pressure on the government to bring back the caretaker system.
Earlier in June last year, the provision that mandated a non-elected neutral government to oversee the national elections was scrapped through a constitutional amendment in line with a Supreme Court verdict. At the Nayapaltan rally, Khaleda, however, did not come up with a formal proposal outlining the composition of an interim government to hold the next general election due in 2014. She said the opposition had decided to expand the BNP-led four-party alliance. “Our alliance will be expanded to make the movement a success, and I’m announcing the fresh programmes on behalf of the new alliance.”
She did not disclose the name of the new coalition.
Greeted with loud, sustained applause from the vast crowd, Khaleda reached the stage set up near the party’s Nayapaltan office at 2:35pm. She began her speech at 4:45pm. Hours before 2:00pm, when the rally was scheduled to start, opposition leaders and activists filled up the area between Fakirapool and Nightingale intersection and soon spilled over into the adjoining areas. Law enforcement agencies and ruling party men — all desperate to keep people from entering the city — did not appear to have achieved much. The whole area was under constant surveillance of Rab, police and other agencies while party volunteers were also active to ensure security. Over 10 big screens were placed at different points for real-time projection of the rally. Bitterly criticising the government for “paralysing” the country in efforts to foil the rally, she said, “The government’s attitude towards the people was the same as that of occupation forces. Usually, it is the opposition that declares a hartal, but this time the government itself has enforced it.” She said the government itself had snapped road and river links between Dhaka and the rest of the country but failed to prevent people from streaming into the rally. “How many times will you prevent us? We will declare such programmes repeatedly. The people are with us.” “The government could not keep people from joining the rally although they barred them everywhere and persecuted many. What did the Awami League try to prove by paralysing the capital?” she said. The authorities disrupted the country’s communication system in the last three days, forced city hotels and restaurants to keep shut, even had the police raid houses and offices, she alleged. “No one has the right to make people suffer like this. What kind of democracy is it when armed cadres of the ruling party bring out processions under police guard while the opposition is not allowed to hold a peaceful rally?” asked Khaleda. Reiterating her earlier stance, Khaleda said the BNP-led alliance would not participate in general elections if they were not held under a non-party natural government and they would not allow such polls. “The country is now witnessing one-party rule — unofficially, which is Baksal [the national party formed by Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman]. Democracy is now prisoner in the hands of one person,” she said. The administration had become paralysed due to politicisation, she said, adding that parliament had proved ineffective and the judiciary was failing to ensure justice. The government became scared as it had no public support, Khaleda said, calling upon all to come forward to oust the government to protect the country and its independence.
She claimed the government could not do anything for the people in the last three years and it was the moral responsibility of everyone to force the government out of office. “Those who have plundered money from the share market must be tried one day,” she said, adding that the telecom sector had turned into a den of corruption. BNP’s Dhaka city Convener Sadeque Hossain Khoka presided over the meeting. Mirza Fakhrul Islam Alamgir, acting secretary general of the party, Jamaat-e-Islami acting chief Maqbul Ahmed, Bangladesh Jatiya Party (BJP) Chairman Andaleeve Rahman Partha, Liberal Democratic Party President Oli Ahmad, BNP Standing Committee members Khandaker Mosharraf Hossain and Moudud Ahmed, among others, spoke at the rally. On the government’s foreign policy, Khaleda Zia said Bangladesh had become isolated from the Muslim world. “The country has no friend except a neighbour but it’s certain the neighbour will also desert this government soon.” She criticised the government over its “failure” on the Teesta water-sharing issue and alleged that many secret deals had been signed with India. People want to know about these deals, the opposition leader said. “Factories are being closed down due to power and gas shortages and conspiracies are on to sell these to another country,” she alleged. She said there was no border security any more. “BSF (Border Security Force of Indian) men intrude into our territory and kill our people but the government does not protest,” said Khaleda, adding, “If voted to power, we pledge to strengthen our border force.” The former premier alleged that the government was controlling the media. “They forced ETV, ntv and BanglaVision to stop live telecast of the rally.”“The TV channels were not being allowed to work freely and the talk shows are being censored as the government fears the people and the media,” she said, urging the journalists’ community to continue their movement for a free media.She said the trial of those who murdered Sagar and Runi — the journalist couple who were killed last month — would never be held as the prime minister had declared that evidence of the killing had been lost.Khaleda came down hard on her political archrival Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and other ruling party leaders over their making indecent remarks against her and other opposition leaders.She said the prime minister’s statements in parliament and at different places do not become the head of a government.
“Don’t dishonour your post and position,” she told Hasina. Referring to the PM’s recent comment that “She thinks the caretaker government will take her [Khaleda] on its lap and put in power,” Khaleda said, “Did the Fakhruddin-Moinuddin government bring you to office this way?” “I believe in my religion. I have struggled a lot and the Almighty has blessed me with many things. I am blessed with people’s love and they made me prime minister three times,” Khaleda went on, “I don’t want to assume power to avenge but to protect the country.”Trashing allegations by ruling party leaders that she had taken money from the Pakistani intelligence agency ISI before the 1991 elections, the BNP chairperson said people know who the agents of another country were and who had received bags full of money before the 2008 elections.“These are vulgar and irresponsible statements. People have always cooperated with and helped the BNP to go to power.”Khaleda said the country’s honour and dignity had been destroyed by the government’s behaviour towards Nobel Laureate Prof Muhammad Yunus.“It is unfortunate that the Nobel laureate of another country is being invited here while our own Nobel laureate is not even mentioned,” she said.
The BNP chairperson also made a number of promises that she said would be implemented if her party was voted to power. “We will build two bridges on the Padma.”Under her plan, the constitution will be amended in line with people’s aspirations and one crore people will get ration facilities from the day her party assumes office.
“We have adopted a future plan. Details of the plan will be disclosed later.”She said her plans include ensuring uninterrupted supply of gas and electricity, deep-sea port, rail modernisation, free health service for the poor and elderly women and establishing national unity.She said effective measures would be taken to curb corruption and combat terrorism while absolute independence will be ensured for the judiciary and the media.The former premier said elected representatives of local government bodies would be empowered more and free education would be ensured till graduation for female students