Hartal, a long-missing word in Bangladesh politics, has hit headlines again when BNP called a dawn-to-dusk shutdown for Sunday after five years, rejecting the results of the elections to the two Dhaka city corporations.
Despite staging a comeback after a long time, the hartal enforced by a major political party had little impact on the everyday life of the city dwellers.
The traffic flow was significantly low as expected as private transports stayed off the city streets. With the passage of time, the streets, however, returned to their usual bustling, proving that the shutdown failed to get the desired response of the city dwellers as expected by the opposition BNP.
Shaheen Chowdhury, a resident of East Rampura, said he had actually thought the strike was unlikely to affect his work and movement. "There’re enough public transports on the city streets and I think an almost peaceful atmosphere throughout the day encouraged office-goers like me to move to their workplaces without any hassle," he told UNB.
Unlike Shaheen, a few city dwellers preferred staying indoors and spent time with their family members.
Farah Zahan, a student of a private university, was seen shopping in the city's New Market area. Asked about the strike, her response was a bit interesting.
"The strike is the reason for which our classes were postponed, I thought I should make the best use of the day for my chores," she said.
So was the response of Nazma Begum as she said the overall situation of her neighbourhood was unchanged despite the strike. “It came and gone… cast no impact.”
Visiting the TSC area on the Dhaka University (DU) campus, this correspondent saw a huge gathering near the entrance of Suhrawardy Udyan defying the hartal as the month-long Amar Ekushey Book Fair kicked off on Sunday.
Nazmul Hossain, a DU student, told UNB that the university area remained unaffected despite the shutdown and it encouraged him to visit the fair. "Some of the DU departments postponed their classes but some didn’t. So, the overall student turnout remained roughly the same," he said.
Police were deployed across the capital to fend off any untoward situation during the hartal hours.
BNP Senior Joint Secretary General Ruhul Kabir Rizvi along with some party leaders and activists took position in front of their Nayapaltan party office since early morning. BNP Secretary General Mirza Fakhrul Islam Alamgir also went to the party headquarters around 9:30am.
They brought out a procession in front of their office in support of the hartal and burnt a symbolic electronic voting machine (EVM) there.
Later, they took position in front of the gate of the party headquarters and shouted slogans in support of the hartal.
BNP candidate in the Dhaka South City Corporation (DSCC) Ishraque Hossain joined them around 11am.
Speaking on the occasion, Rizvi claimed that people were “spontaneously’’ observing their shutdown programme. “People have given their support to our hartal and they also rejected elections to two Dhaka city corporations,” he said, adding that their shutdown was observed peacefully across the city.
Meanwhile, huge law enforcers were deployed near BNP’s Nayapaltan office and adjoining area to avoid any possible unwanted incident. Around 11:45am, police asked the protesting BNP leaders and activists to leave within half an hour.
The protesters left before noon when Rizvi said they would resume their protest after lunch.
Fakhrul called the shutdown on Saturday evening, reviving the ‘hartal culture’ in Bangladesh politics.
Jatiya Oikyafront, led by Dr Kamal Hossain, extended its support to the BNP programme.
Awami League mayoral candidates Atiqul Islam and Sheikh Fazle Noor Taposh won the mayoral race of DNCC and DSCC respectively in Saturday’s elections.
BNP last announced countrywide nonstop blockade on January 5, 2015 and it continued until April 4, leaving at least 120 people, including policemen dead, mostly in firebomb attacks.
BNP chairperson Khaleda Zia announced the programme as police barred her from coming out of her Gulshan office to join an anti-government rally over the first anniversary of 10th parliamentary election.
The BNP chief stayed her Gulshan office since April 4 that year as the blockade programme was on.
Amid the blockade, the party and the 20-party alliance also enforced hartals in different phases. They called a 45-hour hartal on March 30 for the last time demanding ‘restoration’ of democracy and people’s voting right.
She, however, returned to her Gulshan residence from her office signaling that the blockade was withdrawn. The party never withdrew the blockade programme officially.
BNP also never convened hartal or blockade programme after its negative experience during the nearly three-month blockade programme.
The party also did not call hartal even after its debacle in the December 30, 2018 general election following widespread allegations of irregularities and ballot box stuffing the night before the voting and when Khaleda was sent jail on February 8, 2018 as she was convicted in Zia Orphanage trust graft case.