Tens of thousands of activists and leaders of the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) have started to arrive in Cumilla since Friday morning to attend the party's divisional rally at Cumilla Town Hall on Saturday.
Forming small processions, BNP supporters from districts close by arrived in and around the rally venue throughout the day, the crowd becoming colossal in size by the evening.
Visiting the area firsthand, The Business Standard (TBS) correspondent found that the town hall premises had become so jam-packed by Friday evening that no new procession was able to enter the hall. BNP activists were seen taking positions at various nearby places, including Kandirpar's Pubali, Liberty and Ramghatla intersections.
This massive inflow of people to Cumilla began before Friday from fear of a sudden transport strike. According to sources, more than one lakh people from the neighbouring districts of Chandpur and Brahmanbaria and upazilas around Cumilla Sadar reached the city by Thursday.
Nazrul Islam, a BNP supporter from Daudkandi, said, "Several thousand leaders and activists from Daudkandi came to the town hall today to strengthen the tide that has been created among the people to oust this government. This tide is the tide of change."
Amin-ur-Rashid Yasin, Cumilla South District BNP convener and chief coordinator of the rally, said, "This rally will not be a sea, it will be an ocean. The number of people appearing in Cumilla is beyond our imagination. Public attendance at the rally may exceed the five-lakh mark on Saturday."
"We have kept several hundred megaphones ready. The main venue of the rally will be the Town Hall but the activists will fan out in the surrounding five-six kilometre radius. The mass rally will span Kandirpar to Shashangacha, Tamcham Bridge, Ranir Bazar, Faujdari Mor and Chawkbazar.
Earlier, two congregations of Friday prayers were held at Comilla Town Hall ground and Comilla Eidgah ground.
BNP Standing Committee Member Dr Khandkar Mosharraf Hossain, Vice-Chairman Barkat Ullah Bulu, South District BNP Convenor Amin-ur-Rashid Yasin, BNP Organising Secretary (Cumilla Division) Mostak Mia, South District BNP Member Secretary Jasim Uddin, among other leaders, participated in the Town Hall jamaat.
Former mayor and expelled BNP leader Monirul Haque Sakku also offered Friday prayers on one side of the Town Hall ground.
'Govt, police clamping down on BNP men'
Meanwhile, BNP Standing Committee Member Dr Khandkar Mosharraf Hossain held a press conference at a restaurant in Cumilla on Friday.
He alleged that the ruling Awami League and police are attacking BNP leaders and activists in Cumilla ahead of the political party's divisional rally on Saturday.
"Constable Biswajit of Brahmanbaria's Bancharampur Police Station brutally killed Chhatra Dal leader Nayan with a shotgun but a case was filed against BNP activists. Two activists – Rafiq and Saidul – have been arrested in this case," he said.
"The ruling party is establishing a reign of terror. Cumilla's Laksam and Manoharganj upazilas have gained infamy as townships of terror," the BNP leader said, adding that BNP Vice-Chairman Barkat Ullah Bulu and his wife were attacked in Manoharganj's Bipulasa market on 17 September.
Mosharraf Hossain alleged the ruling party has been cracking down on BNP activists in Cumilla for the last 10-12 days ahead of Saturday's rally.
"Policemen in plain clothes are going to the homes of BNP activists and trying to intimidate them. On 21 November, plain-clothed policemen attacked and vandalised the house of BNP Joint Convener Monir Ahmed. The house of Chandpur BNP General Secretary Salim Ullah Selim and the house of various leaders and activists were searched by police," he alleged.
The BNP leader said the Jubo Dal, Swachhasebak Dal and Chhatra Dal are also being targeted by the ruling party.
"But despite all the obstacles, the previous seven rallies have been largely peaceful. I promise that the Cumilla rally will also be a peaceful one," Mosharraf said.