You mentioned joint declaration with political parties. But we see only those who were BNP’s allies in 2014-2018 are with you till now. Has any new force joined this movement?

A section of left parties who want to engage in a simultaneous movement has joined us. These parties include Saki saheb’s (Junaid Saki) party and Saiful Haque saheb’s party.  Some more parties we talked with are likely to join. We have discussed with Oikya Front and they are with us. Our 20-party allies are also with us.

You are planning to go into a concurrent movement making the alliance ineffective. Is there any advantage of this strategy?

The advantage is the different political parties hold different opinions. They have some issues such as not forging an alliance if a certain party remains in the alliance. The idea of concurrent movement emanated from such differences of opinion among the parties. The movement will decide where we will stand.

Here comes the issue of Jamaat e Islami. Given the recent leaked speech of Jamaat ameer (chief) in an internal programme on the alliance and you stance-- where does your alliance with Jamaat stand now?

We also said the same thing as he (Jamaat ameer) said. We are now holding simultaneous movements. We are not doing any movement under the alliance. So it is clear that we are in a simultaneous movement and those who want may come.

We often hear that ruling party leadership asks who will be prime minister if BNP comes to power. You have given a reply. What are the reasons behind this discussion?

Our chairperson is incarcerated and acting chairman is outside the country. We maintained One of them will be prime minister. This matter is brought forward intentionally to give the people and the international community a wrong message that there is a leadership crisis exists (in BNP).  We have evinced many times and you have seen that our party is running very smoothly. Our party is functioning under the direction of Tarique Rahman and a leadership of the standing committee since Khaleda Zia is indisposed and under house arrest.

There is a rumour that many at home and abroad do not like Tarique Rahman.

These are concocted by Awami League. I reckon there was some international propaganda behind it. But the situation has changed. His acceptance is very high in the party, the country’s politics and even in the international arena.

Many people are of the view that Tarique Rahman is an obstacle on BNP’s road to power. Do you think so?

No. We believe in the power of people. We have already said that Khaleda Zia will be our prime minister if we can topple the government through forging a unity of people. In case of Khaleda Zia’s absence, Tarique Rahman would become prime minister.

Due to ‘Hawa Bhaban’ experience, many think that the situation would deteriorate further in comparison with the current state if Tarique Rahman comes to power.

This is a baseless assumption; there is propaganda behind such thinking. This started before 1/11. The propaganda some intellectuals and professionals launched against against Hawa Bhaban and our acting chairman was found to be false in 99 per cent of the cases later. This propaganda has been going on out of political motives with a view to malign and defame BNP and its leadership through a local and international conspiracy. Reality is Awami Leaguers failed to prove these allegations against Tarique Rahman.

How organised is BNP now?

BNP is more organised now than anytime in the past. You must have observed the attendance in recent programmes of BNP is noticeable. Big parties might have many problems. But everyone has joined this movement burying the hatchets. Even in electoral constituencies where we have multiple candidates, they have joined hands to engage in the movement. This is a positive thing. We are much more optimistic this time as all BNP men are desperate now. We are pushed against the wall and it is a do-or-die situation for us.

You often say there are 3.5 million cases against BNP men throughout the country. How will you participate in the election if verdicts are handed down in these cases?

They could not bring many of these cases to the final stage. You must have mentioned that many cases are being quashed as these cases do not withstand the trial stage. Moreover, we have come to politics facing cases. I must mention that there was not a person to turn the lights on in Awami League office after the party announced 6-point demand in 1966. But they have become successful within a short time. We have seen in ‘90s movement, in 2001 and later in 2014 that cases cannot scotch any movement. Cases can’t dampen movements.

You said leaders and activists are more organized than ever. But we hear of difference of opinion among the leadership so often.

You must have heard from different media. But as far as I am concerned, the problems we had in past has completely resolved. I sense a unity among the leadership of the party and everyone want to work. These are recent phenomenon. The people who were involved in politics of BNP, Chhatra Dal and Jubo Dal are interested to work with us again. Even the professionals who have no connection with politics are also contacting us. We consider these factors as positive.

We often hear about your conflict with party’s senior joint secretary general Ruhul Kabir Rizvi. What is the truth?

This is out of question. Ruhul Kabir Rizvi is much younger than me. Secondly we always respect his stance, his contribution to BNP. No one will be able to say I ever had any problem with Rizvi. Government intelligence agencies usually spread this propaganda to heat things up here.

A rumour has been hovering around that a rift is imminent in BNP.  Awami League’s presidium member Abdur Rahman recently said a new BNP is in the offing.

These all are trash talk. They only utter what they wish and what they think will be beneficial for them. After they said this, you can check Colonel Oli sahib’s (LDP leader) conversation on a Whatsapp group that he vehemently protested. He clearly said that they are still with BNP and continuing movement unitedly. We have not seen any such indication as of yet.

We are not worried about it. There were efforts to break BNP many times in the past and some success too. Effort to break BNP is made in its bad times and also the government tries to bait some people before any election. But these efforts do not hold water. BNP is like a rushing river. Some people will come here and some will go. Some straws might depart but the mainstream of this party cannot be restrained.

Is there any indication that some might depart?

I don’t see any possibility. Look, I don’t have any classified information as of now. I hear sometimes hear some rumour and you sometimes write many things. But I don’t have any such information.

We often see BNP’s internal discontent over committees. Can this be used to break the party?

This is a mere assumption. No break-away person could do well leaving BNP. In a big party like BNP with thousands of qualified persons, it is only normal that many deserving people would be left out of 151-member committee. The main thing is bringing these 151 persons to work and we are doing exactly this now.

After the prime minister’s visit to India, you said India is no longer happy with them. What is your logic behind this?

The prime minister went to India, and what did she get? The main issue of her visit to India ahead of this election should be to resolve our disputed issues with India, doesn’t it? Unfortunately, we did not see these issues. A deal was done on Kushiara river only and that was not a big problem for us either. We did not get any solution to various issues that include Teesta water sharing, border killings, reducing trade deficit, India’s positive role in Rohingya crisis. Rather we got a very good speech on good relations and they want to see a stable government here in Bangladesh.

Any country will say it wants stability in Bangladesh, we, too, want it, everyone wants it. It does not prove that the relations with them have been reached as expected as what the foreign minister stated during his visit to India. We did not see any such statement. Yet, Obaidul Quader has tried to to say the statement covers that the issue of stability in Bangladesh, but it is not same thing to see stability in Bangladesh or see the Awami League in power.

If we analyse geopolitics, we see that the recent trade and business relations of Bangladesh with China have increased significantly. China’s influence in Bangladesh has increased significantly without doubt. For geopolitical reasons and its own sake, India will not want other power expands much influence here. This is the one reason. Another reason is that we think India needs to have friendly relations with the people of Bangladesh. Indian politicians are wise. They clearly see the people have distanced from Awami League. Besides, what India needs from here such as connectivity, and trade and commerce, they have already got it. Will India support an unpopular political party amid this circumstance?

Has BNP’s relations with India improved?

I will say, of course, relations have been improved. They are talking to us. We held talks several times on various issues that include situation of the country and its economy, how our relations can be improved and what we should do to this end.

Does it mean present government of India is happy with BNP?

This is not a question of satisfaction or dissatisfaction. The question is how much importance they are giving on these issues. Any democratic country will want a fair and free election here. India, too, want it, they clearly say a fair election should be held here, and it is normal that they will say it since they are a democratic country.

Is Awami League seemed to be motivated after prime minister Sheikh Hasina’s visit to India?

I would not say that. I see no reason to be inspired.

Is BNP disappointed?

Not at all. BNP is much more inspired.

Many think the stance of US and Western countries vary with India and China’s position on the issues of election, democracy and good governance in Bangladesh. Will it influence the next election?

You must have noticed that democratic countries from the West who want democracy to exist across the world have already been giving clear statement. They want to see a stable and sustainable democracy in Bangladesh. A fair, free and credible election is a main part of the sustainable democracy. They have clearly stated that they are working to this end. They have already met the election commission. So, the statement of Western world is clear on this matter.

And, China does not talk much about political issues. I don’t think India will give any statement at this moment due to their strategic reasons. It will depend on how fast we can wage a rational movement by uniting the people and through which we can march towards a far election and force the government to conduct the election under a caretaker government.

IGP Benazir Ahmed went to the US at the invitation of the UN amid the sanction and he is said to have conquered America.

Unfortunately, there are several media outlets in Bangladesh and they keep saying this since the beginning, but you know he did not go to the USA, he went to the UN conference of police chiefs, and his name came from the Bangladesh government. As per the US agreement with the UN, the US is bound to issue visa to anyone receiving a UN invitation. The US issued his a visa for three days and with a condition to stay in the certain area. So, where did he conquer America then?

You often say this government is ‘fascist’. How much is it possible to change the government at pace that the BNP is waging its movement?

It is very difficult for a democratic party to fight with fascism and the lone way out for it is to unite the people. Because, we know no other way out. We don’t believe in armed struggle and armed revolution. We want to topple the government through the people’s revolution in a democratic way. Our experience says when people take to the streets, when a upsurge arises among people and various state mechanisms, at that time all state agencies come to a point and take side by the people. We have been seeing it since 1952. So, we believe everyone will get involved in the logical demand of the people of Bangladesh and establishing voting rights democratic system.

Prior to the 2018 election, there had been talks over giving BNP 50-60 seats. This time, similar things, too, are being said that BNP will join the election and they will be made the opposition.

This is completely a wrong idea. There might have any rumours, but that has no reality. We will not join any election without a caretaker government because this government will not give a fair election. And we in the movement to make it happen.  Why will the government give it; will they want to die? However, there is only one way for the government to escape, and that is the safe exit. What I have said is, declare that you will form a caretaker government. Solve the problems, and everything will be fine.

You often say in your speeches that present government has destroyed all constitutional and state agencies of the country. How will these be fixed?

We have said we will form a national government with all parties after the election and agencies already facing heavy damage will be fixed through governing jointly.

You want the national government formed with parties involved in movement, but  there is also a different thought over a ‘national government’ prior to election so that a  fair election can be conducted by fixing state agencies including  administration and election commission.

 Many have also proposed a national government before election and that does not seem that much realistic. How will the national government be formed before election? It will have no mandate, no legitimacy. That is why we have placed a very realistic proposal on the formation of a national government with the parties participating  in election and that government will solve all these problems. We  have said this in our Vision-2030. We have talked about many reforms that include bringing down the power of the president and prime minister to a rational level. We have talked about a  bicameral parliament and these are undoubtedly for a political reform. We have also talked about economic reform so that we can create a national consensus on these issues by discussing with other parties.

The Padma Bridge has opened, with work on metro rail, Karnaphuli tunnel and expressway progressing. How will you deny the development work carried out by this government?

This is not a problem in the politics of Bangladesh because Ayub Khan, too, had celebrated the decade of development several days before the fall of his government. HM Ershad did much development and there is no way to deny it. But if you can’t solve the basic issues of the people. Essential commodities is one such issue; on the other hand, people also have a demand to live in a democratic environment, and these people could not vote in last two elections, even in the local government polls. Amid this situation, Awami League is exerting extreme supremacy and occupying everything in villages and towns across the country where general people do not like the government. So, how much development you do, whatever you give, if you cannot solve the basic issues as well as political and economic problems of the people, only flyovers, metro rail, or even Padma Bridge will bear no fruit.

Writer and researcher Mohiuddin Ahmed raises the question on who is the 'finisher' of BNP.

I have given you the answer to this question. He is a columnist; he will speak and write from his thoughts. Our statement is very clear. Khaleda Zia is our chairperson and Tarique Rahman is in her absence. Finisher, striker whatever you call them, they are our leaders.

*This interview appeared in the print and online edition of Prothom Alo and has been rewritten in English by Galib Ashraf and Hasanul Banna