Top leaders of some 30 opposition parties, having no representations in the parliament, including BNP and most of its alliance partners, gathered at a citizen rally on last Saturday under the leadership of veteran politicians Dr Kamal Hossain and Prof Badruddoza Chowdhury. At the rally they tried demonstrating their spirit of forging a greater political unity to ensure a functional democracy through a credible national election under a non-party, neutral election-time government.

With the holding of the rally, political analysts think, the initiative for bringing the most anti-government parties under a same umbrella ahead of the national election will get intensified as all leaders extended their support to the demands made by Oikya Prokriya.

BNP's four standing committee members, including party secretary general Mirza Fakhrul Islam Alamgir, joined the rally at Mahanagar Natya Mancha and presented a message of their chairperson Khaleda Zia, now serving jail, for forging the unity at any cost.

Apparently to appease BNP, the rally organisers in their formal announcement demanded justice for BNP chairperson who, the BNP leaders consider, has been jailed 'unfairly'.

However, some crucial things like leadership of the platform, BNP's participation in it leaving behind its long association with Jamaat, the future action programmes and sharing of seats in the election, still remain unresolved.

Meanwhile, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina slammed Dr Kamal Hossain and Badruddoza Chowdhury for their efforts to forge the unity with BNP, saying they have got together with corrupt people like Khaleda Zia and Tarique Rahman to fight against corruption.

Addressing a civic reception accorded to her by the USA chapter of Awami League at Hilton Hotel in New York on Sunday, she also wondered that former caretaker government adviser Mainul Hosein, who was 'convicted' in a Kakrail land dispute case, joined the unity process.

Besides, Sheikh Hasina said Barrister Moudud Ahmed, who availed of former President HM Ershad's clemency after being convicted in a corruption case and lost his Gulshan house for occupying it illegally is also with them.

Ruling Awami League general secretary Obaidul Quader branded the 'National Unity' as a 'hotchpotch' one and said he does not think this unity will survive.

"The unity forged by Dr Kamal is not a national unity. This is one type of 'hotchpotch'. Those who sleep after arranging a rally in the name of unity cannot keep up a unity," said Quader while talking to reporters at a Cox's Bazar hotel on Monday. He further said, "At the beginning it was 'National Unity' but now it has turned been into 'Nationalist Communal Unity and it will be a nightmare for BNP to expect something from the unity'."

Form the Saturday rally, the Jatiya Oikya Prokriya gave the government until September 30 to meet its three-point demand, including steps for the formation of an election-time neutral government through discussions with the political parties. Their two other demands are taking effective steps for reconstituting the Election Commission and dissolving parliament before the announcement of the election schedule.

Oikya Prokriya also announced to hold rallies across the country with the presence of national leaders from October 1 to involve people in their unity process. Engineer Sheikh Muhammad Shahidullah, convener of the National Committee to Protect Oil, Gas and Mineral Resources, Power and Ports, read out an announcement of the citizens' rally.

Oikya Prokriya also urged people to form committees of the 'Greater National Unity' in all the districts upazilas, unions and words comprising all the political parties, individuals, the people of all walks of life and civil society members who believe in the spirit of the Liberation War to realise the demands of the mass people through united and peaceful programmes.

The Election Commission's 'failure' to hold the recent local government elections in a fair and neutral manner has exposed again that a credible election is not possible under a political government, said the announcement of the rally. "A unity has also been created among people over the matter. So, today's rally extended solidarity to the five-point demand and nine targets announced by Oikya Prokriya and Jukta Front at the Jatiya Press Club for a fair and impartial election on September 15."

It also demanded the government release the arrested students as they waged quota reform and safe roads movements and leaders and activists of all political parties after withdrawing the 'false' cases filed against them.

The citizens' rally also urged the government not to arrest leaders and activists of any political party until the national election is over.

Speaking at the rally as the chief guest, Bikolpo Dhara Bangladesh president, AQM Badruddoza Chowdhury said they are in discussions with different political parties and individuals, including BNP to strengthen the national unity. "We think our efforts will be successful."

He, however, said they will not forge the national unity with those who were against the Liberation War. "The national unity can be intensified with only those who are pro-liberation forces. It's time for putting up a resistance ...and realising demands."

B Chowdhury, also a former president, criticised the government for its 'failure' to ensure the security of people, including women and children, check extrajudicial killing, enforced disappearance, corruption, bribery and maintain law and order. He also slammed the government for attacking and torturing students.

The former president also questioned as to why the political parties need to take permission from police to hold rallies and meetings while the ruling can do it anywhere anytime as per its wish. "We'll hold rallies by taking permission from people, not from the police, in the days to come." He also castigated the government for its failure to realise the fair share of Teesta water from India over the last 10 years.

Speaking at the programme, Dr Kamal Hossain said they are putting in their best efforts to empower people and restore their voting rights. He said the country now has been under misrule as political opponents of the ruling party are being constantly harassed. Mentioning that some people are sensing a conspiracy behind the national unity process, Dr Kamal said those who fear people are insulating people by calling their efforts to get united as a plot.

"Bangabandhu had given me the responsibility for formulating the Constitution of the just-liberated country. It's my best achievement. Personally, I've nothing else to get. As a political activist, it's my sacred duty to ensure the empowerment of people as per the Constitution," he said. Kamal, also the president of Gono Forum, said they are trying to forge the national unity to ensure a functional democracy and the rule of law and neutral enforcement of law by restoring people's voting, basic, human and constitutional rights. "People are giving a tremendous response to our call as they're united over the basic issues. Time has come to unite the like-minded parties. I believe our efforts will yield a positive outcome."

Speaking at the rally, BNP secretary general Mirza Fakhrul Islam Alamgir thanked Dr Kamal Hossain and B Chowdhury for taking steps to forge the national unity as the government is trying to establish a one-party rule by destroying democracy. "There's no alternative to forging the unity to get rid of misrule of this government, and remove it from power," he said. Fakhrul also said their chairperson Khaleda Zia gave them a message from jail to create the national unity to oust the 'fascist regime' and restore democracy. He said the government is now implicating their party leaders and activists in 'ghostly' cases to keep people away from election.

The BNP leader said people will lose their basic rights while the country's independence will be at stake if a pro-people government cannot be established removing the current one. Fakhrul said most political leaders at the rally made almost similar demands, including resignation of the government, dissolution of parliament, installation of an election-time government, reconstitution of EC, deployment of army and cancelation of EVM use decision, for holding the next polls in a fair and credible manner. He called upon the national leaders to launch a united movement to force the government to release Khaleda Zia, all political prisoners, and ensure a fair and credible election. "We must get united for it. We've made a good progress over forging the national unity through this rally. We hope we'll be able to forge the unity very soon under the leadership of the national leader and move forward." He also called upon all to join the movement for realising people's all the demands.

BNP standing committee member Khandaker Mosharraf Hossain said a national unity is very crucial now to restore democracy and ensure good governance in the country. "Let's get united, irrespective of party and opinion, and move ahead for establishing a pro-people government," he said. BNP sanding committee member Moudud Ahmed said it will not be possible to oust an autocratic government without forging a national unity. "Today is a new milestone for Bangladesh's politics as we've started a new journey for forging a national unity. "I believe this unity process will be strengthened further in the days to come to unseat the despotic regime by uniting people of all walks of life," he observed. He also assured that their party will be there with B Chowdhury and Dr Kamal for launching a united movement for the restoration of people's voting rights.

BNP standing committee member Abdul Moyeen Khan, Gonoshasthaya Kendra founder Zafrullah Chowdhury, barrister Mainul Hosein, Jatiya Samajtantrik Dal (JSD-Rob) president ASM Rob, Nagorik Oikya convener Mahmudur Rahman Manna and left alliance partner Gano Sanghati Andolon chief Zonayed Saki, among others, spoke at the rally.

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