These meetings were all closed door and BNP did not reveal to the media, officially or unofficially, as to what transpired at these meetings. In fact, directives had been issued from the top that no one other than the party secretary general, speak to the media about the meetings. However, journalists came up with certain coverage of the meetings based on information from their personal contacts.
Basically, it was decided at the 10 meetings that the party would not participate in elections under the present government. A movement must be launched with the single demand for elections under an election-time neutral government. BNP must lead this movement. Rather than an alliance-based movement, the movement should be held simultaneously with all concerned. That would mean not activating the prevailing 20-party alliance and the Jatiya Oikya Front and not maintaining alliance links with Jamaat-e-Islami in order to overcome adverse attitudes at home and abroad.
However, from sources present at the party it was learnt that certain differences had emerged in the three meetings with the professionals and the meetings with the party leaders. Representatives of the professional bodies had spoken in favour of a movement, but said that this would have to involve the people. They felt a movement with just party activists and supporters would not be successful. They also cautioned the BNP leadership against the movement turning violent or creating panic among the people. Other issues raised during these 10 days included the need for the party to be consolidated, anger over restructuring in the party, diplomatic failure and so on.
BNP secretary general Mirza Fakhrul Islam Alamgir told journalists that the party standing committee will discuss the views raised at these meetings. They will then take a decision accordingly.
BNP top leadership arranged these meetings basically with the next national election ahead, according to party sources. In the first phase, meetings were held on six days – three days from 14 to 16 September and another three days from 21 to 23 September. During these meetings, the party vice chairmen, advisors to the chairpersons, joint secretaries general, standing committee members, executive committee members and leaders of the party’s district units, party affiliated bodies and fronts, aired their views.
Then on 27 September the meeting was with members of Dhaka Bar Council, the next day, 28 September, with leaders of professional organisations. Finally on 8 and 9 October, BNP top leadership held meetings with representatives of 48 professional organisations and institutions.
A number of standing committee members were regularly present at the meetings. Iqbal Hasan Mahmud was present for 9 days. Speaking to Prothom Alo, he said, “We received guidelines from the field level leaders, which will have significant contribution in determining the party’s policies. Another aspect of these meetings is that this will have an impact on the party leaders and activists. They are now inspired. They have overcome the fear and hesitation they faced all these days.”
BNP leaders said that such an extensive arrangement in the absence of party chairpersons Khaleda Zia was a huge achievement for the party. The party’s central executive committee held a meeting on 3 February 2018 before Khaleda Zia went to jail on 8 February that year. This was the first time that the party’s executive committee meeting was held with BNP acting chairman Tarique Rahman presiding. Tarique Rahman was present at all the meetings, joining virtually from London.
BNP leaders said based on the views that came forward during the meetings, the questions that loomed large now were whether BNP will launch a movement or not, whether it will join the next parliamentary polls or not, whether the 20 party alliance and the Oikya Front will be dissolved or not. But the party has benefitted from the meetings. A sense of enthusiasm has been created among the leaders and activists of the party at the grassroots after a long time.
An observation of senior leaders in the party is that a big achievement is that these meetings have served to consolidate Tarique Rahman’s leadership further. This is the first time in his mother Khaleda Zia’s absence that he has met with leaders from all levels of the party. He also met with leaders of like-minded professional bodies.
This process has thwarted the efforts of those who tried to push Tarique Rahman to one side or create controversy regarding him.Gayeshar Chandra Roy, BNP standing committee member
Sources say that in earlier meetings in the presence of Khaleda Zia, very few party leaders and professionals spoke up. In these 10 days of meetings, 422 leaders spoke for about 45 hours in total. Tarique Rahman listened to what they all had to say, but spoke less himself. These meetings also sent out a message within and outside of the party concerning Tarique Rahman – that everyone was united under his leadership.
Speaking to Prothom Alo, BNP standing committee member Gayeshwar Chandra Roy said, “Our leader Khaleda Zia is under house arrest. In her absence, acting chairman Tarique Rahman very efficiently carried out the party work and brought all the leaders and activists of the party together. He listened to 60 to 70 hours of deliberations in the 10 days of meetings and took notes. I feel that this process has thwarted the efforts of those who tried to push Tarique Rahman to one side or create controversy regarding him.”
*This report appeared in the online editions of Prothom Alo and has been rewritten in English by Ayesha Kabir