Defying all odds and hurdles, surprisingly lesser in number this time, tens of thousands of BNP leaders and activists have joined the party's eighth divisional rally at the Town Hall premises in Cumilla.
Cumilla city unit of BNP arranged the rally that formally began around 11am on Saturday morning amid relative ease with no transport strikes this time.
Upazila level leaders of Cumilla, Chandpur and Brahmanbaria are currently delivering speeches.
Meanwhile, locals have reported that they have been facing difficulties in using mobile internet services since this morning.
Journalists of different media houses, who gathered in Cumilla to cover the rally, also claimed to have faced slow internet services.
According to telecom operator sources, mobile internet speed in the area has been affected in the area due a to a large number of users, exceeding the capacity of the nearby network towers.
However, BNP's Cumilla (south) district unit Convener Aminur Rashid Yashin said, "This [slow mobile internet] has been done following the directives from the government [Awami League]. The same happened during the previous rally.
"However, such acts cannot demotivate the party leaders and activists."
Forming small processions, BNP supporters from districts close by started arriving in and around the rally venue since this morning.
The participants in the processions were sen holding the party symbol "sheaf of paddy" and the photos of former prime minister and BNP Chairperson Begum Khaleda Zia and her son, the party's acting chairperson, Tarique Rahman.
Organisers have kept two chairs empty on the main rally stage for Khaleda and Tarique, both convicted over corruption charges, as a symbolic gesture.
BNP Secretary General Mirza Fakhrul Islam Alamgir along with other senior party leaders have already reached Cumilla and are scheduled to address the rally around 2pm.
Speaking with The Business Standard, Abul Bashar, a Jubo Dal leader from Nabinagar in Brahmanbaria, said, "I came to Comilla two days ahead of the rally and stayed at a relative's house fearing a transport strike."
"Our goal is to make the rally a success at any cost," he added.
Meanwhile, security measures have been beefed up in the district ahead of BNP's rally.
Additional police have been deployed at all entry points of the city, including -- Kandirpar Pubali Chattar, Modern High School, Dharmapur Railgate, Shamangacha Railgate, Tomcham Bridge, and Chawkbazar.
This is the third divisional rally that the BNP is going to hold without any transport strike in effect during the event after the Chattogram and Mymensingh rallies.
BNP, so far, has organised divisional rallies in Khulna, Rangpur, Barishal and Faridpur (another BNP organisational division) where party leaders and activists encountered formidable obstacles, including transport strikes and police cases, to join the programmes.
The rally location had become so jam-packed by Friday evening that no new procession could 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 Cumilla Town Hall ground and Cumilla 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'
Earlier on Friday, BNP Standing Committee Member Dr Khandkar Mosharraf Hossain held a press conference at a restaurant in Cumilla.
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 that the ruling party is also targeting Jubo Dal, Swachhasebak Dal and Chhatra Dal.
"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.