It seemed some puzzles from the 11th parliamentary polls resurfaced yesterday to haunt Dhaka University students, who turned up in huge numbers to vote in the Ducsu polls.
In the morning, voters' mood was as festive as it was at the start of the national election over two months back. This time, there was one stark difference.
Rivals of pro-Awami League Chhatra League leaders were present everywhere on the voting field. During the national election on December 30, finding trace of members from the opposition was a real challenge, as if they were swept away by some miracle force.
Yesterday, voters stood in long queues with BCL men at the front at nearly all 18 hall centres across the campus. And like the national election, the column of voters remained almost static for reasons unexplained to those standing at the back for hours.
But the voting progressed anyway. And, groups of voters were seen coming out of polling booths to stand in the lines again with their mates at the front.
There was another basic difference between the Ducsu polls and the parliamentary election.
During the December 30 polls, many voters alleged that as they entered the polling booths, they found their votes had already been cast. But yesterday, most of the voters could exercise their franchise if they managed to go in.
Interestingly, only resident students of male's halls somehow found their way at the start of every voter line. Non-resident students, on the other hand, faced all the troubles in moving up the seemingly immobile queues. Some in the queues pointed out that only the students loyal to the BCL got seats in the dormitories.
The day did not progress like the national Election Day, although the university's vice-chancellor echoed the chief election commissioner's remark about the polls being fair.
DU students, on the other hand, stood up firmly for their rights to vote, which was not the case for the parliamentary polls. Residents of different dormitories staged protests alleging vote rigging by the BCL.
The Daily Star correspondents had this experience visiting all the 18 polling centres at the halls.
Around 8:30am, students wearing badges of the BCL panel were seen disciplining the voters' line inside Dr Muhammad Shahidullah Hall. Almost all at the front was either wearing the same badge or T-shirts with photograph of the BCL-sponsored vice president candidate.
For the next 30 minutes, one of the correspondents observed the queue, which advanced in an unusual slow manner. Several BCL men were heard asking to ensure that no outsiders could stand there.
Talking to reporters around 9:30am, a voter from the chemistry department said, “I have been standing here since 7:00am. But after all these hours could move only a few steps ahead.”
A student was supposed to get maximum four minutes to cast a vote.
Several residents of the dormitory alleged that BCL activists created an “artificial long queue” to delay the voting process.
“It seems the voting process has intentionally been slowed down to discourage voters, especially those who don't stay here. Chhatra League thinks the students will leave without casting their votes if they have to stand [in the line] for long,” said one of the students, wishing not to be named.
“It's simple. Chhatra League knows it can't win an election if it's fair,” said another student.
By 10:00am, the number of those in the queue rose to nearly 300. At that time, The Daily Star correspondent saw one with a BCL badge coming out of the polling booth and joining the line again.
Chhatra League men were heard asking those in the line to vote for the BCL panel.
FAZLUL HAQUE HALL
Several students of Fazlul Haque Muslim Hall alleged that BCL leaders asked their followers to intentionally slow down the voting process.
Around 11:00am, a chemistry student said he could not cast his ballot even after being in queue for nearly three hours.
Another student wishing anonymity talked about the same experience.
SALIMULLAH MUSLIM HALL
Around the same time, BCL men were seen gathering at the gate of Salimullah Muslim Hall and checking student ID cards. Many students alleged that BCL men were barring non-resident students from casting their votes.
Voting advanced slowly at that dormitory as well.
Mominur Rahman, a returning officer for the polling centre at the hall, said he asked the teachers working as polling officials to look into why the voting was taking time.
SURJA SEN HALL
Around 7:30am, some 150 students were in a voters' queue at the Surja Sen Hall. Some other students were seen distributing leaflets and instructing the students to vote for the BCL panel.
“Remember what you were told last night?” one asked, according to a video footage obtained by this newspaper.
From a little distance, the situation at Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman Hall seemed better. But a closer look revealed that the voters' line there was actually staged.
Hall sources said having cast their votes, BCL men created a “fake” queue, which was moving slowly around 12:15pm.
Because of that queue, the other voters from the dormitory were stuck nearly 60 yards off from the polling centre.
“I stood in the queue for three hours and it advanced only a few yards. I asked for help from one of my friends who is a BCL activist. I only got a smile in return,” said one of the voters.
Talking to The Daily Star, at least 20 BCL activists said they had drawn up a “strategy” a week before.
“Newcomers at the hall were instructed to stand in the queue and spend as much as time possible so that the non-resident students leave without casting votes,” one of the leaders said.
At Sufia Kamal Hall, the voters' queue stretched to the nearby Shikkha Bhaban and did not progressed an inch for one hour since 10:00am.
The picture was similar at Haji Muhammad Mohsin Hall, Muktijoddha Ziaur Rahman Hall and Zahurul Haq Hall.