Party symbol to be crucial in city polls

Selim Zahid, back from Gazipur | Update:

Hasan Uddin SarkarLeaders and activists of Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) believe their candidate in the Gazipur City Corporation elections holds an edge over his fellow contestants including ruling Awami League's nominee.

They are convinced that Hasan Uddin Sarkar is competent for the post of the mayor and they hope jailing of party chairperson Khaleda Zia, repression of the BNP men and the price-hike of essentials will all make the voters tilted to their candidate.

However, the BNP leaders are concerned over some 'unknown enemies', apprehending that the election might not be a fair one.

Local BNP leaders say the party's symbol will carry more weight than the profile of a candidate in this election, although it is a local government polls. They also feel their candidate has a better profile, as well.

Hasan Sarkar was the founder chairman of Gazipur municipality besides being the chairman of Gazipur Zila Parishad and a two-time Member of Parliament (MP). He has founded educational institutes such as Tongi Govt College and Safiuddin Sarkar Academy and College.

Sarkar's controbution to development of the locality, BNP leaders believe, will be taken into consideration when the voters make up their mind.

Sarkar is from Tongi, an industrial area closer to Dhaka. If the city corporation is split in Tongi and Gazipur, the former will boast greater number of voters, which is an advantage for Hasan Sarkar.

He was a top leader of Jatiya Party (JaPa) once, which is also believed to act in his favour.

JaPa, led by military ruler HM Ershad, has not named any candidate this time, offering their support to its alliance partner Awami League's candidate Jahangir Alam.

Locals say JaPa has no prominent leader in Gazipur since the passing away of Mahmudul Hasan, a former brigadier general. Former health secretary Niaz Uddin Ahmed had joined JaPa with a hope to get a ticket to contest the mayoral polls, but his dreams did not come true. Hasan, being an old JaPa leader, has good connections with the party men.

Mohammad Islam Baburchi, who lives at Ershadnagar, a place that was named after Ershad, said to Prothom Alo, "Our family supports JaPa. If there is a fair election, the BNP will win, because they have a big vote bank in Block 3."

Rubel Mia, another resident of the area, said, "You will see people of Jahangir more because Awami League is the ruling party. We do not know who actually supports whom. Last time Mr Mannan (former mayor MA Mannan) was the winner."

Some locals say Jahangir will get more votes in Gazipur. Shahidul Islam, a shopkeeper in Gazipur, said, "Jahangir belongs to us. They say this election will not change the government, so let him be the mayor. It will ensure development of this area. However, you do not know who will vote for whom."

BNP leaders and activists allege some 'enemies' are after them. These unidentified people ask them 'to be careful', sometimes in person, sometimes on the phone. This has become a headache for them, BNP men admit.

Around 8:30pm on Sunday, when Syed Shamsuzzaman was returning home, someone intercepted him and asked what he had in his pocket. When he replied that he had stickers of paddy sheaf the stranger asked, "Campaigning ends at 8:00pm. Why do you still roam around with these stickers?" Shamsuzzaman now said he was returning home after canvassing. By this time two more people joined the stranger who said, "Be careful. Enemies are after you."

Shamsuzzaman is a member of Gazipur district BNP and joint convenor of the BNP's electioneering committee in Ward 23.

Professor MNH Arif, a resident of Konabari area, received a call a few days back. When he was asked by a stranger at which polling station he would cast his vote, Arif disconnected the call immediately. "I am close to Hasan Bhai, so it was probably done to weaken me," Arif told Prothom Alo.

Rezaul Karim, a BNP activist, received a call on 24 April and the caller, claiming himself to be a police officer, cursed him and asked him not to canvass for Hasan. When he went to the police station to file a general diary, they did not let him do it.

Local BNP leaders say they feel threatened by such incidents, also alleging that pro-AL people and policemen loyal to the ruling party are behind this.

However, Gazipur superintendent of police Mohammad Harun Ar Rashid denied the allegations. "We have not received any such complaints. Rather, more than 30 teams of the BNP are working in the field. If the situation was so bad, they could not work," he said.

Meanwhile, mayoral candidate Hasan Sarkar's canvassing in Kashimpur was interrupted by the policemen on Wednesday, his personal assistant MA Faisal alleged. The police had arrested Hasibur Rahman, a central member of Swecchasebak Dal, in presence of Hasan Sarkar on Sunday. Hasan demanded his immediate release, saying he would not leave that place otherwise. Later, the police released Hasibur.

BNP leaders say they are very concerned about the role of the law enforcement in the Gazipur City Corporation election. They have already written to the election commission asking police super Harun Ar Rashid be withdrawn.

The Gazipur police chief, however, denied making any comments. "It is up to the election commission. I say fair elections have previously been held in Gazipur and this time will be no different," he told Prothom Alo.

On Wednesday night, BNP mayoral candidate Hasan Uddin Sarkar told Prothom Alo, "The returning officer wants a fair election. But will it be possible at all? They only act as per the order. The parliamentary election is around the corner. If the government plays foul in the elections, they will have to pay a hefty price."

**This report, originally published in Prothom Alo print edition, has been rewritten in English by Quamrul Hassan

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