Voters in Netrokona-4 had high hopes for a tough race as three women with graduate degrees were running for parliament from there.
But the situation on the ground was just like in any other constituency in Bangladesh. Ruling party men, in cases helped by law enforcers, were virtually controlling the electioneering and supporters of opposition candidates were panicking.
During 12 days of campaigning, 15 cases were filed with three police stations accusing over 1,000 BNP men of sabotage and subversive activities. Local BNP leaders claimed those were false cases.
Former BNP home minister Lutfuzzaman Babar's son Labib Zaman was also accused in three such cases.
Incumbent Rebecca Momin, wife of Awami League's former food minister Abdul Momin; and Tahmina Zaman, wife of Babar, are running in the constituency that had elected their husbands. The other female candidate Joly Talukder of Communist Party of Bangladesh (CPB) is a well-known workers' leader.
Voters claimed that they were expecting a tough fight in the haor-based constituency, consisting of Mohanganj, Madan, and Khaliajuri upazilas, that have been lagging behind in terms of development.
In the constituency about 30km away from Netrakona town, this correspondent saw vigorous electioneering by the ruling party men and hardly any campaign activity of the BNP.
The BNP's Mohanganj upazila office on Monday was found closed. Locals said the office had been closed for several days.
“There are problems,” was all that Sujan Mia, a tea seller nearby, agreed to say.
Some 100 metres away, the Awami League office was fully functional. SMA Ferdous, organising secretary of Mohanganj upazila AL, said their campaigning was going well.
“Every day, Rebecca Momin is visiting people in different areas and asking for votes. Besides, our area-based camps are also working.”
Another 23 kilometres away at Babar's house in Madan upazila, a few posters and banners of Tahmina Zaman were seen.
A marquee was set up and around 100 BNP leaders and activists were seen seated.
The BNP men said their electioneering has been on hold for the last seven days amid police harassment; they could only campaign in three unions.
“We are on the run. Almost all our leaders are accused and police are carrying out raids regularly,” said Mustafizur Rahman Titu, a BNP leader. Around 65 of their activists have been arrested since campaigning began, he added.
Nurul Alam, president of Madan upazila BNP, claimed they were on a road-show on December 15 when police suddenly prevented their rally and attacked them in Kaitail union.
“But three cases were filed against us the next day. Our leader's son Labib, who came from Dhaka only to take part in the campaign for his mother, was made the prime accused,” said Alam.
According to the case statement, police fired 61 shots and one gas canister on that day.
Alam said police and DB raided Babar's house on the night of December 16. “Is this a level-playing field?”
Of the 15 cases, nine were filed with Madan Police Station. The Daily Star obtained copies of the nine. Noteworthy, the cases filed on December 18, 22, and 23 all have the same text but the names, places, times and dates have been changed.
Refuting allegations, Ramijul Haque, officer-in-charge of Madan Police Station, said the cases were filed on valid grounds.
BNP men said they are confident of victory in the constituency, if a fair election is held. AL men said Rebecca's honesty and promises of development were their strengths.
The AL and BNP have fought hard for this seat since 1991. Babar won the race in 1991, while Momin won the next in 1996. Babar again won in 2001, while Momin's wife Rebecca won the polls in 2008. In 2014, Rebecca won uncontested.