In view of the virtual absence of all opposition political activities due to Covid-19, we have decided to run a series of interviews of political party leaders who are not in the government-led alliance. The interviews will highlight their assessment of the overall situation of the country, discuss their own party’s activities and the plans they have for the future. We hope our readers will find the interviews informative and helpful in moving towards the future. We start with Mirza Fakhrul Islam Alamgir, secretary general of the biggest opposition party BNP, to be followed by GM Quader, chairman of Jatiya Party. -Editor
Following is an excerpt of the interview taken by The Daily Star’s Golam Mortoza:
The Daily Star (DS): BNP is a large political party. Is it facing a kind of a crisis now?
Mirza Fakhrul Islam Alamgir: The BNP is the largest political party in the country. Its leadership has always been very strong. Certainly, there is a crisis right now. Party Chairperson Khaleda Zia has been convicted in false cases. She was jailed for two years. As per the party charter, Senior Vice Chairman Tarique Rahman got the charge and he is running the party accordingly.
The plus point is that all the standing committee members are united. We were united on participating the (parliamentary) elections and formed Oikyafront unitedly along with the 20-party alliance. Now, we are facing the government’s repression. More than one lakh cases have been filed and more than 35 lakh party leaders and activists have been accused in those cases.
DS: Is the number of cases you mentioned a political rhetoric or a reality?
Fakhrul: We don’t do politics based on falsehood. We have documents. The allegations are political. We have FIR copies. It is beyond imagination that there are 5,000 accused in a single case. There were even instances where there were no incidents, (still) cases were filed. Out of the 5,000 accused, the case document mentioned names of 100-150 and the rest are unknown. The unknowns were filled in with BNP leaders and activists. If anyone digs, everything will be clear. If you want to see, come to our office. We will show you the documents.
DS: Are you facing any case now?
Fakhrul: A total of 86 cases have been filed against me. The High Court stayed 35 cases, but the government is trying to revive those.
DS: The BNP doesn’t talk about issues related to public interests like price hike of gas, electricity, and essentials. How do you react to this allegation?
Fakhrul: It’s a propaganda which has been going around for a long time and especially after the 2018 national elections. But these are not true. The BNP tried to take to the street, but we were not allowed. Whenever we took to the street, water cannon and truncheons were used by law enforcers to quell us. Our women leaders were harassed. Many party leaders were abducted and killed. Party leaders and activists are in constant fear of abduction and killing, and they cannot stay in their homes.
DS: In the political arena, it is often said that the government in power will not allow the opposition on the street and the opposition cannot wage any movement. Is the BNP acting according to the government’s desire?
Fakhrul: It is a propaganda that the BNP does not talk about people’s problems. Unfortunately, many joined in to spread this propaganda, which surprised me.
DS: What do you mean by many joined in?
Fakhrul: Some civil society members joined in. When you people write columns, we see this. These are not true. We did not compromise with the government.
DS: You said the BNP did not compromise. On social media, some senior leaders have been saying that you compromised and that’s why Khaleda Zia was allowed out.
Fakhrul: It is not true. It is also a propaganda against the BNP. Begum Zia is sick. She came home following application of her family members. She was not getting treatment in hospital.
DS: The BNP has complained against the Election Commission publicly and repeatedly. But even after that, you are participating in elections. Isn’t it contradictory?
Fakhrul: It is not. What is the alternative? The alternative is to resist elections and resort to violence. We don’t believe in the politics of violence. We have experienced it many times … the government resorted to violence and blamed us for it. That’s why we tried to maximise the use of the minimum space [we get] in a democratic manner.
DS: College teachers and students cannot post anything anti-government on social media. Have you seen that?
Fakhrul: An authoritarian government is always fearful of losing the power. They don’t allow people to speak up. What is the reason behind the directives that college teachers and students cannot express their opinions? The government knows that the college teachers and students are not in its favour.
This is nothing new. The constitution has been amended. There are three clauses against which you cannot say anything. If you say anything that goes against those clauses, seditious case will be filed against you. The Digital Security Act gagged the scope for freedom of expression. You see we are not even creating a buzz against it. If college students are barred from freedom of expression, it is a dreadful matter.
DS: There was a time when the BNP was very vocal against India. After a pause for a while, the party is making some statements against India. The BNP is, however, very flexible about China. What is the reason behind it?
Fakhrul: The BNP does not do politics for or against any particular country. The party’s stance has always been to uphold the interest of the country (Bangladesh). India is our big neighbour, we have always raised our voice about the unresolved issues with India. We are not getting our fair share of water from the Teesta and other common rivers. We have always spoken against it. We are continuing our protest against border killings of Bangladeshis. Our stand against Rampal Power Plant is unequivocal.
China is one of leading economic powerhouses in the world. Bangladesh needs the support of that power. As a political party, we believe in maintaining cordial relations with an economic powerhouse like China.
To talk about the unresolved issues or asking for our fair share does not mean we are anti-India. We believe in maintaining cordial relationship with China, India, and other countries on the basis of fairness.
DS: Is Oikyafront active now?
Fakhrul: Our Oikyafront is still intact. Everything is not visible all the time for various reasons. Due to government repression, we cannot do proper politics. but our front is intact.
DS: There are reports that Khaleda Zia is not happy with the formation of Oikyafront and its activities. She has expressed her dissatisfaction.
Fakhrul: This is not correct. She has given directives to keep the unity intact. After coming out of jail, she has emphasised on the need for bigger unity.
DS: Does the BNP have ties with the Jamaat-e-Islami?
Fakhrul: Yes, the BNP has ties with Jamaat. The ties remain as it was before. We haven’t observed any programme with Jamaat for a long time. We have not observed a programme collectively with Jamaat since 2015.
DS: It is said that the BNP’s relations with Jamaat have strained on the war crime trial issue.
Fakhrul: There can be difference of opinion between parties in an alliance. And it can be in the case of the 20-party alliance. But that relations have not strained.
DS: The war crimes trial took place a long time after 1971. Still, the BNP took a stance against the trial of war criminals. Has the BNP opposed the war crimes trial due to its association with Jamaat?
Fakhrul: It is not that the BNP was against the war crimes trial. We were always for the trial, and our position is still the same. We have talked about the quality of the trial. We have criticised the loopholes of the trial process. We should keep in mind that the BNP’s founder was a valiant freedom fighter, sector commander and a Bir Uttam. We fought to liberate our country. There are so many freedom fighters in the BNP, a party that cannot oppose the war crimes trial.
DS: But the BNP never advocated for holding the war crimes trials.
Fakhrul: This allegation is not correct. We did not want to politicise the war crimes trial. The Awami League did it. We wanted a fair war crimes trial.
DS: You are carrying out the responsibilities of BNP secretary general for years. Do you think you have lived up to your job?
Fakhrul: I tried. The path of discharging the duty is very tough. But we are moving forward. I think a national unity is badly needed to restore democratic system in the country. I’m a firm believer.
Log on to www.thedailystar.net for the full interview.