Stepping into Chuadanga on Sunday afternoon, the first thing that stood out was the absence of “sheaf of paddy”, the electoral symbol of the BNP.
Only posters of the ruling party candidate Solaiman Haque Zoarder Selun and a few sporting the “hand fan” symbol of Islami Shasantantra Andolon and the “hurricane” symbol of Muslim League could be seen.
For a 200km stretch -- from Jashore to Kushtia, via Jhenaidah, Chuadanga-Meherpur -- the situation was the same.
In Chaudanga-1 constituency, comprising Chuadanga Sadar and Alamdanga upazilas, ruling party activists were campaigning in small groups. However, not a single BNP activist could be seen.
“Where is the BNP office?” this correspondent asked a tea stall owner. He pointed to a direction which led to an unassuming one storey building with no visible signs of being an office. There were no posters; not even of Md Sharifuzzaman, the Jatiya Oikyafront candidate.
At the entry, a person introduced himself as Advocate Moniruzzaman, stepbrother of Shamsuzzaman Dudu, the BNP's central leader. He said the district BNP had rented out a portion of his house to use as the party office.
“But there are no activities here. All the election work is being conducted from Oikyafront candidate Sharifuzzaman's home,” he said.
Sharifuzzaman's house is a two-storey building with a large four-foot by two-foot banner, seeking votes for the “sheaf of paddy”, hanging in front of it.
Inside the house, piles of printed posters were gathering dust at a corner of the balcony.
This is also where a crowd of BNP activists could be seen.
Queried on why they were not hanging the posters, an Oikyafront worker said they had not gotten the chance to do so.
“Our workers cannot go to the field as ruling party men are attacking them. They even attacked my motorcade and injured the president of Jubo Dal,” said Md Sharifuzzaman.
Police are also filing cases against our activists, said Sharifuzzaman.
“Actually it seems as though we are contesting against the administration, not the Awami League. If the administration would not help them, they would not be able to stand in front of us,” he said.
Police have filed a total of seven cases against BNP men since the election commission announced the polls schedule. BNP men also filed three cases against AL activists, along with filing 12 complaints to the deputy commissioner alleging election code of conduct violations, he said.
“So we are waiting for the election day. We are not quitting… If necessary, we will resist them,” Sharifuzzaman, a member of the district BNP convening committee said.
Another Oikyafront candidate, in Chuadanga-2, Mahmudul Hasan Khan Babu, had to leave his constituency for Dhaka due to oppression by ruling party men, he claimed.
However, when asked over phone, Babu said he had gone to Dhaka for some work and would return the next day.
The AL candidate, Selun, denied allegations of using force against the opposition.
“I don't know whether the opposition is conducting their campaign or not; I am busy with my campaign,” Selun said.
The lack of pre-election festivity was glaringly present but more worrying was that the general people from Chuadanga and Meherpur seemed to have no interest in discussing the elections.
When this correspondent asked a grocer about the election atmosphere, he showed no willingness to discuss it or even try to guess who would win.
Another college teacher chose to speak but requested that his name not be published as he did not want “any trouble”.
“I do not want to talk in favour or against any of them,” he said.
On the way to Meherpur, at the banks of the Matha Bhanga river, trucks carried bauls singing songs inspiring people to vote.
Unlike Chuadanga, there were more BNP activists there.
Oikyafront candidate Masud Arun has been conducting election campaign from his office in College Road, Meherpur.
“In the town there is not much problem for our activists. But our campaigners are facing problems in the villages. Almost every day they are facing attacks by ruling party activists.
“I am conducting my campaign every day, but it has become a curse for my men. Police are arresting my people if they join my campaign.
“It seems my popularity is the reason behind the police repression on my party activists,” he said.
Arun alleged that in the last month, around 14 cases had been filed against thousands of BNP leaders and activists.
“They are even going the houses of BNP activists at night and arresting them. They [BNP activists] are not able to stay at home,” he said, adding that he hoped the police would play an impartial role in the coming days.
He alleged that some police officers were arresting his men only for money. However, he did not raise allegations against his opponent Forhad Hossain Dodul, the candidate of the grand alliance led by AL.
When asked about Arun's allegations against the police, Md Mustafizur Rahman, superintendent of police in Meherpur, said they had rounded up only those who were accused in subversive cases filed earlier.
“We are trying to resist those who can cause anarchy during the election period,” he said. All of those arrested had records of creating anarchy in the past, he added.
“We have arrested many ruling party men who were involved in creating nuisance. But they never mention that.”