Suspicions have arisen within BNP over a dinner arranged by an organisation of Farhad Mazhar and Shaukat Mahmood. Shaukat Mahmood has had to pay a high price for arranging this dinner on 16 March at a five-star hotel in the city. BNP had issued show-cause notices against him at least twice in the past, but this time has expelled outright him from the party.

Why is the BNP leadership so suspicious about this dinner? It seems evident that BNP does not regard this as merely an innocuous dinner. They are seeing this as a conspiracy and suspect a certain force is behind the scenes.

However, Shaukat Mahmood, expelled from BNP, told Prothom Alo that there is a misunderstanding within BNP over this event. But the National Committee for Civil Rights, or Jatiya Insaf Kayem Committee, did not remain restricted simply to a dinner. The organisers came up with a political resolution to form a national government comprising representation from all political parties of the country, before the election.

The national government would come up with a new constitution and then call for the national election. This political statement has led to the controversy. The question also arose as to what was the source of funding of this two-man organisation arranging a dinner at a five-star hotel.

BNP's objections

BNP's main objection is to the political proposal placed at the dinner. The party is involved in a movement for the government to resign and for elections under a non-party government. Once they win the election, then they will form a national government. BNP had made this declaration before launching the movement with like-minded parties and alliances. But the proposal made at the Insaf Kayem Committee dinner, was for forming a national government before the elections. BNP finds that contradictory to their stand.

Speaking to Prothom Alo, BNP secretary general Mirza Fakhrul Islam Alamgir said, this proposal for forming a national government and new constitution before the election has been raised at a time when they were carrying out a movement for a non-party government. This is a motivated move and a part of a certain force's conspiracy. He said he feels the government is behind this.

Further elaborating the matter, Mirza Fakhrul Islam Alamgir said, such activities are being taken up to divert attention away from BNP's movement and create confusion among the people.

Nagorik Oikya's president Mahmudur Rahman Manna also joined the dinner, but he said he went because he was invited. He said he had no idea about the agenda of the meeting or the discussion

Many persons, however, may raise questions about BNP's objection to the statement made at Insaf Kayem's Committee's dinner. After all, the constitution permits anyone or any organisation to express their views or make a proposal on any issue.

Insaf Kayem Committee's member secretary Shaukat Mahmood had been BNP's vice chairman. But while in this senior position of the party, he raised a proposal contradictory to BNP's political stand, under the banner of a different organisation. This has particularly invoked the anger of BNP leadership.

BNP also seems to be suspicious about those who took part in the dinner. Convener of Gono Odhikar Parishad, Reza Kibria, Lt Gen (retd) Chowdhury Hasan Suhrawardy, former ambassador Sakib Ali, former NBR chairman Abdul Mazid, Gono Odhikar Parishad's joint convener Rashed Khan and a few former police officials were present at the dinner.

Nagorik Oikya's president Mahmudur Rahman Manna also joined the dinner, but he said he went because he was invited. He said he had no idea about the agenda of the meeting or the discussion. However, there had been tensions for quite some time between Shaukat Mahmood and BNP leadership.

Earlier, in April last year, BNP had issued a show cause notice against Shaukat Mahmood. He had been accused of violating party discipline. He had held a public gathering under the banner of a body for professionals, calling for the fall of the government. BNP leaders had said they had no connection to that gathering.

In December 2019-20, Jatiyabadi Muktijoddha Dal and Peshajibi Parishad held large rallies in the streets, with Shaukat Mahmood in the lead then too. At that time too he was issued a show-cause notice by the party.

This time, however, BNP has dismissed him from the party with no chance to defend himself. The party considers the activities of Insaf Kayem Committee to be conspiratorial.

Questions over source of funds

BNP leaders also have questions concerning the sources of funds for the dinner held at Sheraton Hotel in Banani, Dhaka. They feel some quarter is behind funding the event.

Suspicions and doubts have led BNP to take a stern stance against Shaukat Mahmood. Also, almost all who attended the dinner are a part of the simultaneous movement with BNP. BNP is cautious about them too. The party is also looking into whether anyone else in the party is involved with Insaf Kayem Committee. This was learned after speaking to several leaders of BNP.

What the organisers say

Convener of Insaf Kayem Committee, poet and writer Farhad Mazhar has expressed his surprise over BNP's reaction. Speaking to Prothom Alo, he said their organisation was non-political.

He said there was nothing outside the fundamental pillars of independence -- equality, human dignity and social justice or 'insaf'. They were working to mobilise people's awareness about these issues and human rights. They want to establish 'insaf' or social justice in society. That is what they had highlighted at the dinner, he said.

This differs from Shaukat Mahmood's statement. He said they had raised a proposal for a national government before the election. This was not contradictory to BNP's demand for a non-political government, he claimed.

Farhad Mazhar had formed this Insaf Kayem Committee in 2013. Shaukat Mahmood had not been a part of it back then. After Shaukat Mahmood became involved in the organisation, he organised this dinner as its first programme.

Farhad Mazhar said, the organisation hadn't been active for the past 10 years due to various obstacles. This dinner has brought it into the limelight. But the organisation is being run with just two persons. Farhad Mazhar is the convener and Shaukat Mahmood the member secretary. There is no one else in the committee. They said they will make an effort now to induct more people into the organisation within a short time and form a full-fledged committee.

Though both of them claim that Insaf Kayem Committee is a non-political platform, they have stirred up controversy with their political proposal for a national government before the election.

Farhad Mazhar said they want to usher in social justice, 'insaf'. But the question remains, what 'insaf' will they usher in through a lavish dinner at a five-star hotel?

* This commentary appeared in the print an online edition of Prothom Alo and has been rewritten for the English edition by Ayesha Kabir