With the BNP virtually on the sidelines, leaders of the ruling Awami League and the main opposition in parliament Jatiya Party are running their campaigns in full throttle for the general election in the 33 constituencies of Rangpur division.
Multiple aspirants of the two parties have put up posters, billboards, and arches in their effort to drum up support for their bid for parliament seats on party tickets.
With the exception of Jamaat-e-Islami holding out in a few strongholds, it's mostly a friendly race between the AL and the JP.
Three JP MPs are in the council of ministers while its chairman HM Ershad is the special envoy of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina. And in this parliament, JP lawmakers have never voted against any bill brought to the floor by their friendly treasury bench.
And JP leaders could be running for parliament under the AL-led grand alliance's banner if the party chooses to. The JP has said it would run with its own alliance if the BNP was out of the polls race.
But at the moment, all bets and gloves are off.
JP wants to regain its former glory in the region as it has been losing grounds to the AL over the last two decades while the AL wants to keep its grip and perhaps get a few more seats.
Once Rangpur was HM Ershad's stronghold but the JP in the general election of 2008 and 2014 lost out to the AL greatly.
It did well in the region in the first two polls since 1991, winning 17 and 21 seats. But the party's heydays began to decline from 2001 elections. It got only eight seats in 2014 when it did not have the rival BNP-led alliance to deal with.
However, the AL, which only got 10 seats in 1991 elections, has been consolidating its position since 2008 when it got 20 seats. In the last polls, the party added two more to the tally.
BM Mozammel Haque, organising secretary of the AL and in charge of Rangpur division, said, "We are ahead of Jatiya Party in every seat here. But the equation will change if the Jatiya Party joins our alliance. The party high-command will decide if we need to share seats with them."
Fakhruzzaman Jahangir, Rangpur district JP general secretary, said, "We are not lagging behind the Awami League. We have two to three candidates in each constituency. Even if we join the Awami League-led alliance, we will contest with our symbol 'plough'."
Things are looking bleak for the BNP in Rangpur division formed in 2010. On top of organisational weaknesses, its leaders have been plagued with a large number of cases filed against them.
The party is apparently playing the role of a spectator in the campaign dominated by AL and JP men.
The BNP candidates have always performed poorly in this region with the exception of the 2001 polls when it bagged nine seats.
Bringing several allegations against the AL, BNP Organising Secretary Asadul Habib Dulu said, "Whenever we want to carry out our campaign, police arrest our leaders."
Meanwhile, Jamaat is preparing to run in most of the constituencies of the division, said several grassroots leaders of the party.
As Jamaat's registration as a political party has been scrapped, the party men cannot run with their own symbol. They would either have to contest the polls as an alliance partner of the BNP with BNP's symbol or as independents.
Intra-party feud has been a concern for all three major parties in the region. Over 100 AL leaders, around 70 BNP, and 40 JP men are fighting for nominations, according to our correspondents.
JP bigwigs run for parliament from at least 10 constituencies in this region and almost never have any challengers within the party at those places.
Some constituencies have more infighting than in others.
In Dinajpur-1 constituency, AL incumbent Monoronjon Shil Gopal is facing difficulties.
Some AL local leaders declared him “unwanted” in the constituency bringing allegations of corruption, patronisation of Jamaat-Shibir men, and harassment of party activists.
At least three other AL men are campaigning for the nomination there.
Incumbent AL leaders losing popularity are also seen elsewhere in the region.
Foreign Minister Abul Hassan Mahmood Ali, lawmaker from Dinajpur-4, spent most of the tenure in Dhaka and visited his constituency occasionally.
In his absence, his brother Shamim tried to establish control in the constituency making many party leaders angry.
JP has multiple candidates in a number of constituencies.
Former lawmaker Hossain Mokbul Shahriar Asif, nephew of JP chief HM Ershad, wants to run in Rangpur-1 from where State Minister for LGRD and Jatiya Party's incumbent Moshiur Rahman Ranga wants to run.
The situation the BNP is in is very different.
It does not have candidates fighting among themselves but it is worried about its candidates being overwhelmed by criminal cases filed against them.
BNP Organising Secretary Asadul Habib Dulu said, “Due to obstruction from the Awami League and the police, we cannot campaign properly. Our leaders and activists are overwhelmed with cases. While the Awami League men are campaigning vigorously, our leaders and activists are busy appearing before courts.”
He said the BNP's senior leaders visited the region several times and have prepared a preliminary list of people who might get the party's nomination.
“If we can conduct campaign freely, if we get a level-playing field, and the voting is held in a free and fair manner, we will win almost all the seats in the division,” Dulu said.
The BNP might share with Jamaat 12 out of 33 seats in the division. The 12 include Lalmonirhat-1, Kurigram-4, Rangpur-1 and -2, Dinajpur-6, and Nilphamari-3, said Dulu.
In many constituencies, local BNP and Jamaat men are at loggerheads over seat sharing.
In Nilphamari, Jamaat leader Moniruzzman is campaigning in Nilphamari-2 even though BNP's district unit general secretary Samsuzzaman wants to run there.
“As per our initial plan, we are preparing to contest the polls. But it is not settled whether we will contest independently or under the banner of the BNP-led alliance. We will act as per directives from our party high command,” said Aftabuiddin Mollah, former Ameer of Dinajpur Jamaat.
Based on reports sent by our correspondents Anwar Ali, Kongkon Karmaker, Quamrul Islam Rubaiyat, Abdul Wahed, S Dilip Roy, EAM Asaduzzaman, and KM Rezaul Hoque.