The government does not want the BNP to hold its mass rally in the capital's Nayapaltan on 10 December out of fear, said the party's Secretary General Mirza Fakhrul Islam Alamgir.
"They [the Awami League government] do not want us to hold the rally in Nayapaltan as they are having nightmares seeing the massive size of our divisional rallies," he said while addressing the party's ninth divisional rally on the Central Eidgah ground in Rajshahi city on Saturday.
"We have held rallies there [Nayapaltan] before and will hold it once again peacefully," Mirza Fakhrul said, categorically announcing that the 10 December rally will take place at Nayapaltan despite the government's call to hold it at Suhrawardy Udyan.
About participating in the upcoming general election, the BNP leader reiterated that his party will participate in the polls under a neutral government, not otherwise.
Quoting the ruling Awami League General Secretary Obaidul Quader as saying the election will be held according to the constitution, Mirza Fakhrul said, "Which constitution? The constitution has been torn repeatedly to maintain one-party rule under the guise of democracy.
"This election cannot continue under that constitution. They [AL] have done a lot of misdeeds in the name of the constitution, in the name of the law. But they will not be allowed to do such things again."
"Sheikh Hasina's government must resign, parliament must be dissolved, and a new election commission must be formed," the BNP leader said.
Fakhrul also alleged that the government itself is staging various incidents and filing fictitious cases accusing BNP activists.
Tens of thousands of BNP leaders and activists, defying various alleged obstructions, joined the rally that began around 11:30 am on Saturday amid an all-out transport strike that came into force on Thursday.
BNP Secretary General Mirza Fakhrul Islam Alamgir, Standing Committee member Nazrul Islam Khan and other senior party leaders reached the rally venue at around 2 pm.
Procession participants were seen holding the party symbol "sheaf of paddy" and the photos of former prime minister and BNP Chairperson Khaleda Zia and her son, the party's acting chairperson, Tarique Rahman.
Rally organisers kept two chairs empty on the stage for Khaleda, and Tarique, both convicted over corruption charges, as a symbolic gesture.
While addressing the rally, BNP Standing Committee member Nazrul Islam Khan said, "When the tide of people rises, it cannot be stopped in any way. Even the transport strike could not prevent it."
"This government is not elected but they have no shame. Whose development did you do? Was it for the 12,000 millionaires or 3.5 crore poor people? The opportunists have thrived while the common people suffer," Nazrul said.
Standing Committee Member Selima Rahman said Bangladesh has become an arena of death. The government is looting people's money and laundering abroad in the name of mega projects. But the Awami League has become terrified by our rallies."
"You [Awami League] are playing with people. Just wait a few days, people will play with you from 10 December onwards. We must fight unitedly and free our leader Khaleda Zia and put her in the prime minister's seat," Selima said.
As the rally went on, locals in Rajshahi reported that they were facing difficulties in using mobile internet services since Saturday morning ahead of the rally.
According to sources, the Bangladesh Telecommunication Regulatory Commission (BTRC) issued a letter directing the country's telecom operators to keep the 3G and 4G data services shut in the region from 9:30 am to 8 pm Saturday.
Journalists of different media houses, who gathered in Rajshahi to cover BNP's divisional rally, also claimed to have faced slow internet services.
Meanwhile, BNP activists and leaders alleged harassment by police and Awami League activists at different points on their way to Rajshahi.
Two activists, Insaan Ali Molla and Abu Bakar Siddique – who left their homes in Puthia early morning to reach the rally venue ahead of schedule, alleged that they faced obstruction by the police and Awami League men on the way.
Law enforcers took adequate measures to maintain the law and order situation in and around the city centring the BNP rally.
CCTV cameras and check-posts were set up at all entry points of the city with plainclothes police patrolling important locations.
Meanwhile, bus communication remained halted between Rajshahi and other parts of the country till Thursday evening.
BNP activists from the districts under the divisions were seen coming to the city by train, trucks, and other vehicles like human haulers, auto rickshaws, three-wheelers, motorbikes, and micro-buses from Wednesday.
Transport owners and workers enforced the strike in eight districts under the Rajshahi division for an indefinite period from Thursday, causing immense suffering to commuters.
Besides, the Rajshahi auto-rickshaw owners association also enforced an indefinite strike on Friday afternoon.
BNP leaders alleged that the strikes are meant for obstructing mass waves toward their rallies.
The rally in Rajshahi on Saturday was the ninth by BNP at the divisional level as eight others were held in Chattogram, Mymensingh, Khulna, Rangpur, Barishal and Faridpur, Sylhet and Cumilla.
The party will conclude the divisional programmes by holding its last rally in Dhaka on 10 December.
BNP said the rallies are meant to denounce the price hike of daily essentials and fuels, the death of five party men in previous police action in Bhola, Narayanganj, Munshiganj, and Jashore, and to ensure the freedom of BNP Chairperson Khaleda Zia.
BNP has long been demanding that the next general election be held under a caretaker government, not under any political government — a demand sharply rejected by the ruling Awami League as the constitution does not allow it to happen.
Transport services in the Rajshahi division, however, resumed on Saturday evening almost immediately after the rally ended.