What could have been a day of boundless festivity was spoiled by allegations of foul play, and it was the female students at the country's premier university who first rang the alarm bell.
In two dormitories -- Bangladesh-Kuwait Maitree Hall and Ruqayyah Hall -- they exposed hidden stashes of ballots, both marked and unmarked, setting an example of how to thwart a planned vote rigging.
It was around 7:30am. Nahar Pramanik, an independent VP candidate for Maitree Hall Sangsad polls and some other independent and leftist candidates wanted to see what was inside the nontransparent, steel ballot boxes.
Hall Provost Shabnam Jahan turned down the request. But the candidates and other students stuck to their demand: the boxes must be opened before the voting began.
Amid their agitation, Proctor Prof AKM Golam Rabbani reached the hall around 7:50am and entered the auditorium and closed the door. Minutes later, the proctor and the provost entered the reading room just beside the auditorium and closed the door again.
“Outside, the candidates and students were demonstrating asking why the door was closed and demanded that they be allowed inside,” Nahar told The Daily Star.
In the meantime, some BCL leaders of the hall tried to foil the demonstration in vain.
At 9:00am, the independent and leftist candidates forcibly entered the reading room and found a sack of ballot papers. On top of the sack were some books and a copy of the Quran. Opening the sack, they found several hundred ballot papers, all of those marked in favour of the 13 candidates of the BCL panel, said Nahar.
Thus caught red-handed, Shabnam Jahan was removed from the duty and replaced with Prof Mahbuba Nasreen by the authorities.
Talking to reporters at the spot, Proctor Golam Rabbani said they found the students' allegations to be true.
Nurunnahar Poly, an independent who ran for VP of the hall, said, “We told the provost madam around 7:30am that we would like to see the empty ballot boxes for ourselves [before polling starts]. But she did not let us. She said the proctor would show the boxes once he arrived.
“The proctor came and said there will be a fair election and that the ballot boxes would be shown. They went inside [the reading room] and locked the door from inside. We knocked several times but they refused to open it. After a while they opened the door. Then we found the sack of ballot papers [inside the room].”
Aggrieved students in front of the hall showed the ballot papers to reporters and said they thought the marking took place the night before the election.
Voting at the hall began at 11:10am, three hours behind the schedule.
But it failed to pacify the students as well as left and independent candidates who started protesting at different parts of the campus.
Elsewhere in Ruqayyah Hall, non-BCL candidates sought to see all the nine ballot boxes before the vote began at 8:00am.
Election officials, who are teachers at the university, showed six boxes and then kept them in the auditorium. But students and candidates insisted on seeing the rest three as well.
In the face of their protest, Hall Provost Prof Zeenat Huda brought three boxes from the auditorium, but the students suspected those were from among the six boxes they were shown earlier.
Heated arguments followed as to why all the nine boxes were not shown at once. Voting here was delayed by an hour.
With allegations of ballot boxes being hidden at the hall spreading fast, other candidates and students rushed to the hall.
Around 11:30am, quota movement panel VP candidate Nurul Huq Nur went there. He and some other candidates of the Hall Sangsad told the provost that they suspected there were ballot boxes in the room next to the auditorium, said Munira Dilshad Ila, Progotishil Chhatra Oikya's GS candidate for Hall Sangsad.
Amid the heated arguments, BCL GS candidate Golam Rabbani and Ruqayyah Hall's BCL-supported AGS candidate Falguni Tonni went there and engaged in a fiery debate. Peers of Falguni pushed and assaulted Nur, alleged Munira, who was present at the time.
BCL General Secretary Golam Rabbani denied that Nur was assaulted.
Nur fell down unconscious and was rushed to the Dhaka Medical College Hospital. By 12:30pm, other voters and candidates demanded that the authorities open the locked room and let them in to see what was there, said Munira.
Students and candidates then broke open the room and found three trunks full of ballot papers that were not marked. Voting was suspended since 12:00pm and the female students of the hall began demonstrating in and outside the hall.
At 12:45pm, chief returning officer Prof Mahfuzur Rahman went to the hall and the female students chanted slogans against him and he was forced to retreat.
Female students of Sufia Kamal Hall also staged protests as the election officials did not show them the ballot boxes. The general students of the hall stopped voting around 10:30am.
One student of the hall, requesting anonymity, said the administration did not want to show three of the nine ballot boxes.
Chhatra Federation's general secretary candidate Umme Habiba Benojir said, “We had sensed irregularities earlier. They [the teachers] had sent the ballots and the boxes on the previous night and created the scope for vote rigging.”