12:00 AM, December 18, 2018 / LAST MODIFIED: 11:58 PM, December 17, 2018

From campaign trail: Rajshahi

Odds are against BNP contenders

On Victory Day, people of Thakur Manda village in Naogaon-4 constituency woke up to the smell of something burning.

The night before, with the help of a few local Awami League men, some people wearing helmets came to the village around midnight in a motorcycle and a microbus, locals said.

The attackers held the village guard at gunpoint and tore down the ropes on which posters of BNP candidate AHM Shamsul Alam Pramanik were hung.

They then piled up the posters and torched them.

The men did the same at Choumohini and Cheragpur Sufiabazar on their way to Niamatpur. They threw the BNP's election symbols and chairs of BNP offices into ponds and torched three BNP campaign offices.

“Our plans for Victory Day celebrations were ruined and we stayed indoors,” said Rezaul Islam of Thakur Manda, adding that AL and BNP supporters had been living in peace in the village.

Even though the arson in Thakur Manda was carried out under the cover of the night, the attackers did not care for cover in Bhabanipur, Shahgola and Chhotodanga Bazar of Atrai upazila in Nagaon-6, BNP leaders claimed.

There, posters were torn and torched as late as 11:30am.

BNP leaders claimed that this was the situation in most constituencies in Rajshahi region and this was the reason many candidates were unable to campaign.

In the last two days, this correspondent visited five of the six constituencies in Naogaon and three of the six in Rajshahi and saw electioneering was yet to gather momentum even though the polls were less than two weeks away.

At tea-stalls, rural markets, and farmers' gatherings where people usually talk about politics, no one was heard talking about the election.

Many of the 30 voters interviewed said they were worried about violence.

Thakur Manda villagers said police's refusal to visit the spot after being informed of the arson had them more worried. 

Officer-in-Charge Mozaffar Hossain of Manda Police Station said he had no information about arson attacks in Thakur Manda. “In my area, AL has no one to orchestrate violence with. But the BNP has many.”

He said police recorded a case against BNP men for damaging an AL office in Tetulia union and that he learnt about another incident in which faeces was hurled at the AL office in Sotihat area.   

At the beginning of the campaign, police arrested two BNP men in the area. Local AL men had been continuously threatening them of dire consequences if they worked for the BNP camp, said a BNP adherent unwilling to be named.

Local AL leader and former chairman of Bharso union Sharikul Islam denied that the arson attack in Thakur Manda was carried out by AL men. “They were outsiders, not our men. We suspect a conspiracy behind this,” he said.

When asked about his thoughts on the election, a rickshaw-van puller in Choddomail area of Manda said, “I won't talk. We are often blamed as we are the poor.”

He said he decided not to talk about the polls since he learnt that some villagers of Shankarpur were arrested and beaten up by AL men for speaking against the AL.

Instead, he said, “My body aches every night after pulling my van on these battered roads.” The roads from Chalkgouri to Damnash, Lalonpur to Gangopara, and Tentulia to Shankarpur have not been repaired in the last 10 years.

In Naogaon-1 (Porsha, Sapahar and Niamatpur), Naogaon-5 (Sadar upazila), Rajshahi-2 (Rajshahi city), and Rajshahi-3 (Paba and Mohonpur), BNP candidates were able to campaign, though at a much smaller scale than their rivals.

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