Known as the stronghold of BNP and Jamaat-e-Islami, Banshkhali (Chattogram-16) is likely to see a hard-fought contest this time as all four heavyweight candidates have a strong presence in election campaign.
Posters and banners of all parties flooded every important intersection or thoroughfare of the upazila alongside those of Awami League candidate Mustafizur Rahaman Chowdhury.
Gulzar Ahmed, a resident of Jaliarghata village, said historically Banshkhali belongs to the anti-Awami League camp. “There is no exception this time.”
He also said all parties including BNP, Jatiya Party, and Jamaat-e-Islami have a strong position in the constituency; so, AL will face strong resistance if it opts for rigging.
“This is not 2014,” added grocer Jashim Uddin of Kaliur union. “Things will not be easy for the Awami League this time.”
'ATMOSPHERE OF FEAR'
The competitive atmosphere, however, raised fear of violence. Already, Awami League supporters attacked a rally of Jatiya Party candidate Mahmudul Islam Chowdhury on December 21, leaving 30 JP followers with bullet injuries.
Accusing the ruling party of creating fear, the JP leader said, “The Awami League candidate has lost his mind. Using the loudspeaker, he is asking his people in broad daylight to attack our election camp and home. But I will not bow down to any pressure.”
There are also allegations of harassment by the ruling party men and police.
Talking to The Daily Star, BNP candidate Zafrul Islam Chowdhury said the Awami League men were trying to create an atmosphere of terror so that the people fear going to vote.
“They attacked me a few days back and are threatening my people every now and then. They are tearing down the posters and banners in presence of the incumbent MP. I hope they won't be able to undermine of the support base of BNP,” he said.
Jamaat-e-Islami leader Jahirul Islam, who is running as independent candidate, said police are harassing his supporters at night but he is yet to face any obstruction in campaign. “If the people can go to polling centres, I'm hopeful of winning,” he added.
Asked about the allegations, AL candidate Mustafizur declined to comment.
Meanwhile, intra-party feud has weakened the Awami League as a portion of the party threw weight behind the JP, increasing chances of Mahmudul Islam's victory.
With the election day approaching, the minority community has become worried about the possibility of violence. They are still haunted by the arson attack five years ago after Jamaat leader Delwar Hossain Sayeedi was convicted of war crimes.
In the February 28, 2013 attack on Mohajon Para, an elderly was killed.
Still reeling from that shock, a woman whose neighbour's house was torched during the attack, said, “Whenever I hear any procession passing by at night, I wake up from sleep to see if something dangerous is going to happen.”
Another woman said, “Election could be a festival for other parts of the country but for us it is an omen of danger.”
They urged the administration to ensure their safety.
JP candidate Mahmudul said he is a non-communal politician. “I helped a minority leader, Sujit Sikdar, get elected as upazila chairman in 1987. I paid price for that. We all should ensure the security of the minority, no matter who wins,” he said.
Asked, Jamaat leader Jahirul said the minority should get proper security.