BNP leader Salahuddin still shrouded in mystery

BNP leader Salahuddin Ahmed remains a mysterious character. He has been residing in India since his disappearance and subsequent recovery in 2015. There are many speculations on what is holding him back from returning home despite acquittal by the Indian court. 

However, he is active in politics, though not physically. There are speculations about his potential appointment as the party’s next secretary general. 

According to responsible sources, Salahuddin began attending the meetings of the party’s national standing committee, following his acquittal from the court in February, 2023. Now, he is not only active in politics, but also plays a significant role at his party’s policy-making level. 

Some BNP leaders and activists said he had an influence on the simultaneous political programmes before the 7 January elections. Particularly, he was the coordinator of the sit-in programmes at entry points of Dhaka on 29 July last year. However, the programmes were foiled in the face of attacks by the police and ruling party. He also worked behind the scenes in the programmes called after the 28 October rally. 

While talking to Prothom Alo, he said, “I, alongside others, have been attending the standing committee meetings and since the court judgment. If I am assigned any duty, I perform it. That is all.” 

Individuals concerned said a mixed reaction ensued when Salahuddin was entrusted with the coordination of movements before the election. The issue was even discussed by the BNP’s political allies in meetings of the liaison committee.

A leader of Ganatantra Mancha questioned his role and urged to entrust the duty of coordination with a senior BNP leader. Following the failure of the sit-in programme, there were widespread criticisms on how the leader coordinated the programmes from abroad. 

A majority of BNP leaders and activists believe that Salahuddin is yet to be fully free or independent. They argue that he has been in India for 9 years and cannot return home despite acquittal from the court. They are skeptical how far he would be able to play a strong political role without any external influence. 

However, Salahuddin ruled out the speculations on his appointment as secretary general and emphasised that any change in the party's leadership would be conducted through formal organisational process. 

"To change the secretary general, there will be a council as per the organisational process. Also, the party chairman or the acting chairman bring changes as per their organisational power. Is the post of secretary general vacant now? Our secretary general is perfect enough and he is doing good in his duties,” he told Prothom Alo on Friday. 

According to responsible sources, BNP secretary general Mirza Fakhrul Islam Alamgir raised the issue of council in the last meeting of the standing committee on Monday, in an effort to invigorate the leaders and activists. Salahuddin, alongside acting chairman Tarique Rahman, supported the proposal. 

There are various rumors about the post of secretary general of BNP. Some of the leaders show interest behind the scenes but do not agree to speak publicly.

Regarding Salahuddin Ahmad, senior joint secretary general Ruhul Kabir Rizvi told Prothom Alo that he (Salahuddin) can be the secretary general if the party thinks so. Given his contribution, he is a very suitable person.

However, a member of the standing committee, wishing anonymity, told Prothom Alo that there are many leaders who are qualified to be the general secretary. Hence, when the issue of council arises, it follows discussion on the post of secretary general. He, however, does not see any possibility of a change in the post of secretary general at this time.

Nine years in India

Salahuddin Ahmed disappeared from his residence in Uttara in early 2015, amidst heightened political tension. He was the BNP's joint secretary general and used to participate in anti-government movements. 

Following his mysterious disappearance on 10 March 2015, BNP alleged that intelligence agency members picked him up from his residence. Some 62 days later, the Indian police found him in Shillong of Meghalaya in India. The police said they arrested Salahuddin after receiving calls from local people, when he was roaming around like an errant in Shillong. Later, he was arrested for illegal trespassing into India and made accused in a case. 

He was acquitted by a Shillong court in October 2018, but the Indian government appealed against the decision. On 28 February, 2023, the Shillong judge court upheld his acquittal.

Why he does not return home 

Despite the acquittal, Salahuddin could not return home. In this regard, he said, “There is no case against me, the court has acquitted me, but I am not being sent back. Some believe that I am not returning home willingly… a misconception prevails here.” 

He instead asked to question the foreign ministry and the Indian government over his current situation, and clarified that he has no role in the process. 

According to sources close to Salah Uddin, he applied for a travel pass from the Meghalaya state government and got it issued on 8 June 2023. But the pass alone is not sufficient for his return. He also needs an 'exit pass' as per bilateral repatriation rules. 

The state government sought instruction from the union government in this regard, but is yet to receive necessary clearance.

Salahuddin told Prothom Alo that the external affairs ministry did not issue any clearance, most probably due to the negative instruction from the Bangladesh government.

A BNP source said the party sought help from the Indian high commission in Dhaka to bring him back home. But it brought no headway in the process. 

Gayeshwar Chandra Roy, a standing committee member of the BNP, said Salahuddin has no case against him and he has been acquitted by the court. Now, it is up to the Indian government to send him back and the Bangladesh government to receive him. 

During the conversation with Prothom Alo, Salahuddin Ahmed said, “I am sick and aged. Now, it is my final wish that I die at home.”