The verdict in the Zia Orphanage Trust graft case filed against BNP Chairperson Khaleda Zia and five others will be delivered on February 8.
Although the BNP has short- and long-term contingency plans in place for the verdict, the sudden announcement of the date on Thursday has raised concerns among the party leadership.
Pro-BNP political observers have recommended that a committee should be formed for ensuring smooth day-to-day operation of the party before the verdict is delivered. If needed, the committee will maintain BNP unity in the absence of its chairperson.
Meanwhile, several BNP leaders have said they have prepared adequately for any unexpected situation that might arise from the announcement of the graft case verdict.
A total of 75 teams delivered necessary instructions from the central BNP to the party’s grassroots members in December 2017.
Speaking to this correspondent, a senior party leader from a Sylhet Division district said BNP Standing Committee member Gayeshwar Chandra Roy visited them last month and said: “The time for movement and struggle is approaching.”
Gayeshwar reportedly continued: "We must remain united to make the movement successful. If a verdict motivated by political agenda is delivered against the party chief, we will counter it with all our strength.”
Echoing Gayeshwar’s view, another standing committee member said: “We will use all our strength to counter any politically motivated verdict delivered against Khaleda Zia. We will declare a movement.”
Senior BNP leader Advocate Khandaker Mahbub Hossain said he had analyzed the case and firmly believed that Khaleda Zia will be acquitted on February 8.
“If a popular leader of Khaleda Zia’s stature is imprisoned, we will not need preparation for mounting a movement (as) the people of the country will jump into action on their own,” he said.
According to BNP insiders, the party is ready to face increased pressure for a short period of time, centring the delivery of the Zia Orphanage Trust graft case. BNP is not considering the possibility of engaging in a long term movement.
Most BNP insiders believe that if Khaleda Zia is imprisoned, it would create unnecessary pressure for the government itself.
After the announcement of the verdict date on Thursday, BNP Secretary General Mirza Fakhrul Islam Alamgir cancelled his program scheduled for Friday.
The matter was confirmed by BNP chairperson’s media wing official, Shairul Kabir Khan.
Another source from the BNP told the Dhaka Tribune that the party is yet to finalize a decision regarding its long-term plans for a movement if Khaleda Zia is incarcerated. A decision regarding the matter will reportedly be taken later this month.
A member of the BNP standing committee said: “For short term movement, BNP will hold demonstrations like strikes and protest rallies, but for a long-time strategy, the party is considering mounting a stronger legal defence and boosting public support over the issue.”
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When approached for comments, BNP Standing Committee Member Barrister Moudud Ahmed declined to make a statement.
“We have our own political strategy. It will be revealed in due time,” he said.
Meanwhile, the party’s Vice Chairman Shamsuzzaman Dudu told this correspondent: “The date for delivering the verdict has just been announced. We will discuss our next move at the party forum.
“Our decision for now is to counter the issue through legal procedures.”
According to BNP sources, if the verdict turns out to be something unexpected then BNP will take to the streets.
When asked if the movement could turn violent, a member of the party’s standing committee said: “BNP is a democratic party, it has no plans to engage in acts of violence.”
However, BNP leaders believe the government will try to provoke the party into a violent movement.
Insiders told the correspondent that BNP plans to appeal if the verdict is unexpected.
On Thursday, Mirza Fakhrul told the media: “The verdict will be what the prime minister wants.”
Pro-BNP political analysts have stressed the importance of a solid contingency plan ahead of the verdict next month. They stated that a committee comprised of five senior BNP leaders should be formed to carry on the party activities smoothly.
“It is more likely that Khaleda Zia will be acquitted, because any evidence of embezzlement is yet to be found against her,” Dr Zafrullah Chowdhury, a pro-BNP intellectual, said. “If she is sentenced, it would be the result of a political vendetta.”
Speaking about any possible plans for movement, Zafrullah said: “No preparation is needed. If Khaleda Zia is sentenced, it will not be more than three years of imprisonment.
“How BNP will run in the absence of its chief, depends on what plans she has. If the party chairperson wants, she could form a committee who would run the party in her absence. If she does not want this, there is no need for it.”
On the other hand, parties associated with the BNP are also keeping a close eye on the soon-to-be-announced verdict in the Zia Orphanage Trust graft case. However, several leaders of these parties have declined to comment on the matter before the verdict is delivered.
A number of BNP politicians stated that their stance will directly dictate the stance of associate political parties on the matter.
Former president, and also the president of Bikalpa Dhara Bangladesh, AQM Badruddoza, told this correspondent: “Only the judges have the jurisdiction regarding all aspects of the verdict. I hope that Khaleda Zia will get justice, however, I have reasons to suspect that the case was filed to serve a political agenda.”
An insider from an intelligence agency, on condition of anonymity, said: “The government has a number of contingency plans centring the case against Khaleda Zia.
“Intelligence agencies in the country have been directed to closely observe the situation that could arise if Khaleda Zia is imprisoned.”
The source also claimed that the government is planning to keep Khaleda Zia out of the 11th general polls at any cost.
“As part of this plan, the verdict in one of the graft cases against the BNP chief will be delivered against her. The government will look into Khaleda's verdict after finalizing the appointment of chief justice,” the insider added.
Khaleda Zia will sit with her party’s policymakers today to discuss Bangladesh’s current political situation and work out the party’s next course.
Shairul Kabir Khan said the meeting will be held at 8:30pm on Saturday.
It is being assumed that the meeting has been called to decide the party’s next course of action ahead of the verdict in the Zia Orphanage Trust graft case.
The Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) filed the case at Ramna police station on July 3, 2008, naming Khaleda Zia, her son Tarique Rahman, and four others for allegedly embezzling over Tk2.1 crore by forming an eyewash establishment named Zia Orphanage Trust.
This article was first published on banglatribune.com