BNP Chairperson Khaleda Zia yesterday gave a 48-hour ultimatum to Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina to make an announcement accepting the opposition demand for restoring the caretaker government system.
“Otherwise, we will declare such programmes that you [PM] will have to flee away or quit power,” Khaleda warned while addressing a rally at the capital’s Shapla Chattar.
The BNP-led 18-party alliance held the rally to protest government “failure” to properly rescue garment workers at the collapsed Rana Plaza and to demand release of detained opposition leaders and restoration of caretaker government system.
At the rally attended by thousands of opposition leaders and workers, many from Jamaat-Shibir, Khaleda termed Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s invitation to the opposition to sit for a dialogue as a “new drama”.
“The government lowers its voice whenever it falls in danger. You [PM] have again started playing a new drama to divert public attention when the people are angry over the killing of garment workers at Rana Plaza and the ulema [Islamic scholars] are waging a movement.”
Khaleda mentioned several times the Hefajat-e Islam’s Dhaka blockade programme. “Tomorrow’s [today] programme of the ulema will be peaceful and they have every right to demonstrate against those who are speaking ill against our beloved Prophet (pbuh).”
Criticising the Gonojagoron activists, she said if the government did not move them from Shahbagh Chattar, it should not think that the Hefajat activist will leave the streets.
Then she claimed that the Hefajat men have no involvement in politics but the government branded them as militants to the foreigners.
Pointing to the PM’s call for a dialogue, Khaleda said, “Now you [PM] are urging us to sit for a dialogue and calling for joining photo session and also parliament session. Who knows [may be] you will invite [me] after some days for a cup of tea.”
Amid clappings from the audience, the former prime minister said, “But I am inviting her [PM] to a cup of tea at my house to discuss the form of caretaker government and how the next election will be held.”
Khaleda also warned the government of dire consequences if it fails to meet opposition’s demand for restoring CG system. “We have given you enough time,” she said, referring to the prime minister.
“Dialogue or Sanglap is not enough. You will have to announce clearly that the election will be held under a neutral caretaker government. There is not much need to sit for a dialogue. You will bring proposal in parliament. Organise election under the caretaker government system if you have courage,” she added.
“Create a congenial atmosphere for talks; mention specific agenda. The constitution will have to be amended. We are ready for talks.”
Khaleda, leader of the opposition in the House, said people at home and abroad have no trust in Sheikh Hasina. “You [PM] cannot be trusted. You always changed like you changed your dress. You wear hejab and bear tasbih when you go to Saudi Arabia. And you wear sidur and tilak when you go to India.”
Towards the end of her 70-minute speech, the BNP chief asked the opposition leaders and activists if they were ready to stay at the Shapla Chattar for 24 hours.
The crowd burst into cheers and chanted slogans supporting her proposal.
Khaleda then said, “You are ready to stay [at Shapla Chattar] but Hefajat has an earlier announced programme tomorrow [today]. We are giving 48-hour time to the PM to come up with the announcement of accepting the demand for caretaker government.”
She then asked the audience to gather again if they are requested to do so.
Coming to the dais at 3:50pm, Khaleda talked to her defence adviser Maj Gen (retd) Fazle Elahi Akbor, adviser Maj Gen (retd) Ruhul Alam Chowdhury, senior leaders Moudud Ahmed and Khandaker Mosharraf Hossain and discussed staying at the Shapla Chattar for 24 hours.
Although the two former army men favoured the plan, Moudud and Mosharraf did not agree, party insiders said.
Khaleda then called in the chiefs of Jatiyatabadi Chhatra Dal, Jubo Dal and Swechchhasebak Dal and asked them whether they would be able to manage if the leaders and activists staged the 24-hour sit-in.
Finally she dropped the idea. But before ending her speech, the BNP chief called upon the opposition leaders to get ready to come back again if they are asked to do so. “We will meet again very soon,” she said, concluding her 70-minute speech.
“We will sit anywhere if the government refuses us permission at that time,” the BNP chief added.
Addressing the rally, Jamaat’s Acting Ameer Makbul Ahmad demanded release of the party’s detained leaders, including those accused of war crimes.
Later at night, PM’s assistant (media) Mahbubul Hoque Shakil conveyed to The Daily Star Hasina’s message that although she wants talks, the BNP chief has chosen the path of confrontation by issuing an ultimatum to the government.
Earlier in the day, addressing a view-exchange meet with the leaders of Barguna district unit of AL at the Gono Bhaban, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina invited Khaleda Zia for talks to resolve the ongoing political stalemate.
Mahbubul Alam Hanif, joint general secretary of the AL, said the BNP chief wants to realise her “hidden agenda” in the name of issuing an ultimatum.
He, however, did not elaborate on the hidden agenda. The AL will give its reaction today on the ultimatum, he added.