The police have so far maintained their strict stance refusing permission to Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) to hold their divisional mass rally on roads in the capital’s Naya Paltan area considering public sufferings.

However, the ruling Awami League has held two big rallies blocking the roads in the city’s Pragrati Sarani and Sonargaon Janapath in Uttara in the last one month.

Despite immense public sufferings due to the rallies organised by the ruling party on 5 and 20 November, the Dhaka Metropolitan Police (DMP) remained silent.

The law enforcement agency didn’t even ask the Awami League to hold their rally in an open field instead of using the roads or did not impose any conditions at the time. Awami League general secretary Obaidul Quader was the chief guest in both the rallies.

Vehicular movements on Pragati Sarani were completely halted for three hours in the afternoon due to the “shanti samabesh” organised by Dhaka City (North) Awami League in the city’s Madhya Badda area on 5 December. There were huge traffic congestions on the airport-Abdullahpur road and on the Dhaka-Mymensingh highway due to the processions brought out by leaders and activists heading towards Awami League’s rally in Uttara on 20 November.

Speaking regarding holding rallies on the roads, Sheikh Bajlur Rahman, president of Dhaka North City Awami League, told Prothom Alo that they had permission from the police to hold the rally.

The condition set by the police at that time was not to hold the rally on any working day. Police said at the time that holding rallies on working days creates public sufferings and reduces the government's popularity.

One of the two rallies organised by Dhaka North City Awami League was held on 5 November and the other was organised on a working day on 20 November, Sunday. Although Awami League held one of their rallies on a working day defying the condition, the police remained silent.

On the contrary, police have already made it clear that BNP won’t be allowed to hold their divisional mass rally on the streets in the Naya Paltan area of the capital. Police have given BNP the permission to hold the rally at the Suhrawardy Udyan on 26 conditions. Notably, BNP held a number of rallies and other political programmes in the Naya Paltan area in the past.

Speaking to Prothom Alo regarding imposing conditions on BNP, Awami League’s joint general secretary Mahbubul Alam Hanif said, “We take permission from the authorities before any event. We are also given various conditions. We abide by those conditions strictly. The conditions they are talking about are the same as the conditions imposed on us when they were in power. Awami League used to maintain those conditions.”

Among the associate bodies of ruling Awami League who held rallies and councils at the Suhrawardy Udyan in the last one month, are – Jubo League on 11 November, Swadhinata Chikitsak Parishad on 25 November, Mahila Awami League on 26 November, and Dhaka North and South city Chhatra League on 2 December. The DMP couldn't confirm clearly about the conditions given for these events.

Syed Emran Saleh, organising secretary of BNP, said, “Awami League can hold rallies wherever they want. They don’t need any permission or have to abide by any condition.”

“We want the police to publish permission letters for the rallies organised by the ruling Awami League. Let the people know whether the same sort of conditions were imposed on Awami League too or not,” he added.

What do the police say?

This correspondent spoke to some eight top officials of the DMP at their headquarters recently to know whether the Awami League’s associate bodies sought permission for the four political events held at the Suhrawardy Udyan in the last one month.

All of them claimed that they (associate bodies of Awami League) had applied for verbal and written permissions from police before each of these events. Police had also granted these permissions on several conditions. However, none of these officials could clearly tell as to what those conditions were. Later, the DMP officials denied continuing further as this correspondent asked them to show those permission letters.

This correspondent went to the DMP headquarters on 29 November and asked a deputy commissioner (administration) about the permissions and conditions given for the four political programmes held at the Suhrawardy Udyan in between 11 November and 2 December. He told Prothom Alo that DMP commissioner’s special assistant looks after the issues regarding giving permissions for rallies. Later, this correspondent went to the special assistant of DMP commissioner and he said that he was on leave during the time of these rallies and councils held at the Suhrawardy Udyan.

After that, this correspondent went to another official of the DMP administration and asked about this. He said that the operation (drive) department of the DMP deals with the issues regarding giving permission to hold political events.

Speaking to Prothom Alo, a top official of that department said that he would be able to provide details in this regard on Thursday.

On Thursday, he said they had given permission to hold those programmes on conditions. However, he didn’t have the permission letters at that moment.

Later, this correspondent spoke to two other officials regarding this. They said the DMP commissioner’s special assistant is involved with the process of giving permission to hold political programmes based on applications.

This correspondent went to the special assistant of the DMP commissioner the same day. That official spoke to another official over the phone in this regard in the presence of this correspondence. After finishing the call he said, “The matter (giving permissions for rallies and political programmes) is beyond my knowledge.”

This correspondent contacted DMP’s spokesperson Md Faruque Hossain for his comment in this regard.

He said the permission letters issued on the basis of applications from Awami League and its associate bodies do not come to his department.

Later, DMP’s additional commissioner AKM Hafiz Akter (crime and operations) said, “They (Awami League and its associate bodies) informed us verbally or in writing. You have to understand that these are the programmes of the prime minister.”

However, the prime minister was not present at the councils of Dhaka North and South city Chhatra League. When asked about this, Hafiz Akter said, “They (Dhaka city Chhatra League) took permission. And every permission letter comes with several conditions, including appointing volunteers and finishing the programme two to three hours prior to azaan.”

DMP has barred BNP from coming to their 10 December-rally in processions. They have imposed a total of 26 conditions for holding the rally.

Asked about the conditions imposed on Awami League’s associate bodies for holding programmes at the Suhrawardy Udyan, Hafiz Akter said, “I have to see that.”

Lastly on Monday, this correspondent went to the DMP headquarters to inquire about the conditions on those permission letters. However, the concerned officials didn’t want to talk about this anymore.

Writer and researcher Mohiuddin Ahmed thinks such discriminatory behaviour of the police and government towards the opposition is an example of authoritarian, autocratic and dictatorial politics.

He said, “This is simply not allowing the political rivals to do anything. The Awami League got afraid seeing the strength of BNP. From that fear, Awami League is becoming aggressive. And they are being helped by the state machineries.”