Awami League considers the historic Suhrawardy Udyan in the capital city as its own venue. That is why almost all of the party's events where the prime minister and Awami League (AL) president Sheikh Hasina is present, are held at these grounds.

And now the government and Awami League are determined that BNP should hold its 10 December mass rally at that same venue, Suhrawardy Udyan. BNP maintains that it will hold its rally at Naya Paltan. However, the government has decided that it will not allow BNP to hold its rally anywhere other than Suhrawardy Udyan.

Questions and curiousity have been sparked off by Awami League's adamant stand for rival BNP to hold its rally at Suhrawardy Udyan. Some say that AL wants to keep BNP restricted within its own grounds. Then again, others say that this is a sort of challenge to see if BNP can draw in such massive crowds to fill the venue.

BNP will have to fill every nook and corner of Suhrawardy Udyan with people. If it fails to do so, AL will use this as propaganda that BNP does not have public support.

BNP will be holding its mass rally on 10 December in Dhaka after completing mass rallies in 9 organisational divisions of the country. On 15 November the party submitted an application to Dhaka Metropolitan Police (DMP), seeking permission in this regard. BNP said they want to hold the rally in Naya Paltan in front of their party office.

Meanwhile, Awami League leaders have been pointing to different venues. After naming a few other venues, they are now calling for the BNP rally to be held at Suhrawardy Udyan. Not only that, Awami League has shifted the Chhatra League council scheduled for 8 December to 6 December in order to give BNP time to prepare the venue for its rally.

Awami League is coming up with all sorts of explanations and analysis about its insistence on BNP holding its rally at Suhrawardy Udyan. Its leaders are saying that Awami League and the government strongly mistrust BNP. If they are given permission to hold their rally at Suhrawardy Udyan, they will be under tremendous pressure to fill the grounds with crowds. The government wants BNP to hold the rally there so that if the crowds are massive, they can be kept in control.

AL leaders, in their public speeches, say that BNP is being given permission to hold their rally at Suhrawardy Udyan so as to avoid public suffering on the streets. BNP, though, has held its rallies at Naya Paltan earlier. That time too the issue of public suffering was there, but the government had no objection then.

'Easier to control' at Suhrawardy Udyan

Towards the beginning of the series of mass rallies, some of BNP's top leaders had declared that from 10 December the country would be run by Khaleda Zia and that the party's acting chairman Tarique Rahman would return to the country on 11 December. Sources, however, say that those leaders have been cautioned against making such statements.

The government also has suspicions that BNP, in the name of the rally on 10 December, may stage a sit-in. If BNP actually stages a sit-in or takes up any such programme, it would be easier to contain them at Suhrawardy Udyan than at Naya Paltan, AL feels.

There are two reasons behind this -- 1. Suhrawardy Udyan is enclosed on all sides. If there is any disruption, the law enforcement can easily take position at the gates or suitable locations and bring the situation under control. 2. Suhrawardy Udyan has always been under the influence of Dhaka University. Ever since Awami League formed the government in 2009, the university and its adjacent areas have been under Chhatra League control.

Overall, Suhrawardy Udyan is a convenient venue for Awami League and the government to keep BNP's mass rally in their control. Speaking to this correspondent, an Awami League leader said that Naya Paltan has many entrance and exit roads. BNP's central office is there too. It is convenient for BNP is all ways. The Baitul Mukarram national mosque is near Naya Paltan too. Religion-based parties have a fair stronghold in the Purana Paltan and Culvert Road areas. Jamaat-e-Islami also has the chance to show its power in the adjacent areas. If BNP decides to hold a sit-in, Naya Paltan will be convenient. The government doesn't want to give them that chance.

Challenge to fill up the venue

Some policymakers of Awami League feel that if 30,000 to 40,000 people gather at Naya Paltan, the venue will be packed to full capacity. But it will take over 100,000 people to fill Suhrawardy Udyan. This is a big challenge for BNP.

Awami Jubo League commemorates its 50th anniversary on 11 November at Suhrawardy Udyan. Prime minister Sheikh Hasina was present at the programme. Awami League had issued directives to ensure a massive gathering there. Help was sought from Awami League Dhaka North and South to increase the crowds and they complied. Barishal's mayor Sadiq Abdullah came along with leaders, activists and supporters of Awami League, Jubo League and other affiliate bodies, travelling in eight launches to Dhaka.

Jubo League leaders and activists from all over the country joined the gathering. With help from the administration, activities by the main party and long planning of Jubo League, Awami League managed to fill Suhrawardy Udyan.

An Awami League leader, on condition of anonymity, told Prothom Alo and a huge amount of money was spent to ensure massive crowds at the Jubo League gathering. Organisational strength and administrative assistance was taken. It will be difficult at this point of time for BNP alone to fill up Suhrawardy Udyan. AL president, prime minister Sheikh Hasina, wants to see BNP's strength. That is why such an adamant stance has been taken to allow BNP to hold its rally at Suhrawardy Udyan.

he government wants to see who are playing the pivotal role in arranging the crowds for BNP's mass rally, who are providing funds, from which areas are the most people coming and so on

AL confident of its own strength

At a meeting of the AL's local government representative nomination board held on Sunday at Ganabhaban, the prime minister discussed the country's latest political situation, the economic crisis and BNP's Dhaka rally with the party leaders. Sources present at the meeting said that the prime minister had said that BNP's rally should not be obstructed on that day. However, she indicated that permission should be given for the rally to be held at Suhrawardy Udyan and not Naya Paltan.

Earlier, Awami League had been prepared to prevent BNP from holding its rally in Dhaka. Dhaka city North and South Awami League were to set up vigil in every ward and thana of the city. Dhaka district Awami League had declared it would set up vigil at the entry points and hold gathering there too.

Under these circumstances, questions are being asked within AL as to why party president Sheikh Hasina has adopted a softer stance. The party leaders feel that the AL president is quite confident with the party's own strength. AL has ensured huge gatherings at all of its rallies so far.

Dhaka city (South) Awami League will hold a gathering on 9 December at the Baitul Mukarram mosque northern gate and plan to have massive crowds there too. Now the prime minister wants to see BNP's power.

Many also feel that the government wants to see who are playing the pivotal role in arranging the crowds for BNP's mass rally, who are providing funds, from which areas are the most people coming and so on. That may be a reason for being lenient about the rally.

On condition of remaining unnamed, an AL leader told Prothom Alo, there is fear of clashes if BNP's rally is obstructed. The government will have to face strong criticism if this takes place. As it is, foreign quarters have been putting pressure on to allow the opposition to hold meetings and rallies. But whether eventually the government will concede to BNP or take up a stern stance, only time will tell.

*This report appeared in the print and online editions of Prothom Alo and has been rewritten in English by Ayesha Kabir