The central offices of the ruling Awami League (AL) and the opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) have worn starkly contrast looks following the announcement of election schedule.
The AL office at Bangabandhu Avenue was found in a festive mode on Thursday afternoon, with leaders and activists enjoying a feast.
Conversely, the BNP headquarters at Naya Paltan was under lock and key, with the policemen in a cautious position on the premises. Also, there was a significant presence of intelligence agencies centering the deserted office.
Some BNP leaders said they are avoiding the central office due to fear of arrest.
Chief election commissioner Kazi Habibul Awal addressed the nation the previous evening and announced the schedule for the 12th parliamentary elections. The voting will take place on 7 January, while the deadline for nomination submissions is 30 November.
The major opposition parties including BNP rejected the election schedule outright, while the ruling party is preparing to open nomination forms on Friday.
The BNP held a nationwide blockade programme on Wednesday and Thursday, and declared to enforce a hartal on Sunday and Monday, demanding a neutral government to oversee the election.
Can you guarantee that no one will be arrested after approaching the Gulshan office? The leaders and activists now cannot stay even at their residences, let alone the Gulshan office.
Feast at AL office
The ruling party loyalists took positions at different points of Dhaka, in response to the BNP blockade.
During a spot visit around 1:00 pm on Thursday, leaders and activists from the party’s Dhaka city units were seen holding sit-ins before the AL central office. The crowd was notably larger than other days.
Swechhasebak League, an associate organisation of the ruling party, arranged a feast for leaders and activists. A pickup van brought khichuri in sizable degchis and the participants lined up to collect the food.
Alim Byapari, office secretary of Swechhasebak League, was seen instructing the crowd to maintain discipline while collecting the food. He was also assuring them of having enough food in stock.
However, there was no noticeable police presence.
The BNP headquarters used to remain buzzed with a huge crowd of leaders and activists until midnight before 28 October, but now it remains deserted
BNP office under lock and key
The BNP headquarters has been locked since 28 October, when the party held a grand rally on the premises and encountered a massive police crackdown, following sporadic violences. The police's criminal investigation department (CID) marked the office as a crime scene and cordoned it off with yellow tape.
The police erected barbed wire barriers on both sides of the office two days after the rally and removed it later on Tuesday. Still, the fear of arrest deterred the BNP men from approaching the office.
Around 12:30 pm on Thursday, the main entrance to the office was found locked, with law enforcement agencies maintaining a cautious stance on the premises. Members of intelligence agencies were also found there.
The letter, which the election commission issued to the party inviting for a dialogue, was still lying on a plastic chair inside the collapsible gate.
During a stay in the vicinity, it was seen that the police were not allowing any vehicles to stop in the area.
Abdul Ahad, a security guard of Hotel Victory adjacent to the BNP office, said the office used to remain buzzed with a significant crowd of leaders and activists until midnight before 28 October, but no one comes here now.
Empty Gulshan office
Meanwhile, the BNP chairperson’s Gulshan office was found open but deserted around 11:45 am, with no police presence. However, intelligence agencies were noticeably present in the area too.
Md Alim, a security guard at the office, said no BNP leaders had visited the office since 28 October. ABM Abdus Sattar, private secretary of Khaleda Zia, used to commute to the office regularly before 28 October, but has now refrained from doing so.
Speaking to Prothom Alo over the phone, ABM Abdus Sattar said, “Can you guarantee that no one will be arrested after approaching the Gulshan office? The leaders and activists now cannot stay even at their residences, let alone the Gulshan office.”