Anarul Islam, a rickshaw-van puller, parked his vehicle in front of Sumon's grocery shop in Ramchandrapur village of Rajshahi's Paba upazila in Rajshahi-3 constituency yesterday noon while two Awami League activists were describing their party's dominance in the area to this correspondent sitting inside the shop.
Anarul frowned when he overheard one of the AL men saying that many of the BNP supporters have “willingly” joined their party.
“Your party men are converting the villagers by force,” Anarul uttered aloud, adding that he too was a victim of AL's coercion a few days back.
He alleged that AL activists had surrounded him while he was taking tea at a tea-stall in the area recently.
They forced him to chant the “Joy Bangla” slogan and threatened him of dire consequences if he would not vote for “boat,” he claimed.
“It occurred in broad daylight. I was compelled to do what they asked me to,” he said.
Claiming that Anarul's claims were “false”, Mohammad Jarjis, one of the AL activists, said at least 25 BNP men from the adjacent Kanthalpara village had “willingly” joined the AL a few days ago.
They not only joined the AL but also paid the local ruling party men for holding a concert on December 25 “without any kind of force, Jarjis added”.
Abul Kalam, another AL man, said “I see no problem in the village as both AL and BNP men are campaigning side by side.”
Anarul dissented once again and said at least two tea-stalls belonging to BNP supporters were torched in the neighbouring Bhalam village during the early hours of December 26 to terrorise the BNP supporters in the area.
He also claimed the AL men had been intimidating villagers saying they [AL men] would keep an eye on who they vote for.
At this point, Jarjis told Anarul, “We must be watchful about them as they joined our party pledging to vote for us.”
Anarul stopped the argument at this point and left the spot soon after noticing that he was receiving harsh rebuke while being surrounded by a couple of the AL supporters.
From Sumon's shop, this correspondent went to Kanthalpara village nearby where he learnt that most of some 750 voters there were supporters of the AL.
The village had at least 25 homeowners who were believed to be the BNP supporters until December 25, the day when they joined the ruling AL in presence of the party candidate in the constituency and lawmaker Ayeen Uddin.
“We joined the ruling party because we thought it would be favourable for us,” Altaf said, adding that these 25 families would account for some 150 votes.
At Bhalam village nearby, this correspondent found one Abdul Kuddus and his son Jewel Rana were rebuilding their road-side tea stall.
A BNP election campaign office beside them was also seen bearing the marks of vandalism.
“Reported by a villager, I rushed here around 2:00am on December 26 and found my tea-stall torched,” said Abdul.
Jewel Rana, another college student, said, “I think the attack was carried out because of our family's support for BNP”.
Shafiqul Haque Milon, the BNP candidate in the constituency, said several identified group of AL men had been roaming around the villages and terrorising villagers on a regular basis.
AL candidate Ayeen Uddin, however, denied any such allegations and said that BNP men were terrorising voters by burning AL offices at Duari, Majhigram and Sreepur villages.
"We asked our men to remain calm, but some minor incidents occurred as it is difficult to keep them calm in the face of continuous provocations from the BNP men," he added.