The Central Eidgah in Rajshahi city was abuzz with thousands of BNP leaders and activists as more were still arriving there by alternative modes of transport amid the strike called by bus owners.
Many activists entered the city riding easy bikes and walking through the villages surrounding the city to avoid harassment, some BNP men said.
BNP activists alleged harassment by police and Awami League activists at different points on their way to Rajshahi.
On Friday, very few vehicles were seen plying on the city streets, the second day of the transport strike from 1 December.
In the evening, only a few CNG autorickshaws were seen at the Railgate easy bike stand of the city, which generally remains crowded with more than a hundred vehicles all day long.
Autorickshaw drivers said police were not allowing vehicles with passengers to enter the city, but they were allowing vehicles to go out of the city with passengers.
"The association has asked us not to run CNG autorickshaws amid the strike. But we have come out with our vehicles just for bread and butter," said Rafiqul Islam, a CNG autorickshaw driver.
Police patrolling also intensified at the four entrances to the city on Friday. Police personnel were seen busy checking documents of vehicles at different intersections.
"We are conducting searching activities as an additional precaution so that no one can create any kind of chaos and anarchy," Abdur Razzak, officer-in-charge (investigation) of Katakhali Police Station, told The Business Standard.
Abul Kalam Siddique, commissioner of Rajshahi Metropolitan Police, said, "Some 1,200 policemen are engaged to maintain security in the metropolitan area. We want to ensure that the BNP can hold their rally in a democratic environment."
Festive mood at the central Eidgah ground
The central Eidgah ground in the Pathanpara area of the city adjacent to the venue of the rally has already turned into a sea of people. BNP leaders and activists are staying at the ground in a festive mood by setting up makeshift tents under the open sky.
Most of them arrived at the ground using vehicles including easy bikes, rickshaw vans, rickshaws, and motorcycles.
Around 7,000 Chhatra Dal, Jubo Dal and Shwechchasebak Dal activists from Bogura arrived at the central Eidgah ground in the Pathanpara area of Rajshahi city riding around 3,000 motorcycles chanting slogans of the party at around 5pm Friday.
Rajibul Islam, president of Chhatra Dal, Govt Azizul Haque College, Bogura, said they reached Rajshahi via Santahar and Naogaon through the Bishwa Road from Bogura. "On the way, police obstructed us seven times. Several of our motorcycles were destroyed."
Jubo Dal leader Ashraf Ali from Bogura said, "Police stopped our motorcycle and wanted to see the documents. They tried to stop us from joining the rally. However, we have succeeded in entering Rajshahi overcoming all the obstacles."
Siddiqur Rahman Siddique, joint convener of Krishak Dal of Naogaon's Manda upazila, was going to the rally on a battery-powered easy bike with six other activists of the party.
"Police stopped our easy bike five times on the way to Rajshahi from Manda. Later, we used alternative routes to come here. Many activists from the upazila are coming to the city using around 1,500 motorcycles," he said.
More than 50 makeshift tents have been set up at the ground to accommodate them.
BNP activist Harunur Rashid came to Rajshahi from Bara-Suzhanagar, Pabna two days ago along with many of his comrades. They are staying in tents at night set up in the ground.
"We take a bath in the Padma River and cook our food ourselves. We have brought rice, pulses, oil, salt and spices," he said.
All quiet in the bus terminals
All the bus counters in the city were found in a quiet mode on Friday with workers passing time idly amid the transport strike in the eight districts under the Rajshahi division for an indefinite period from 1 December to press their 10-point demands.
The demands include an amendment to the Road Transport Act of 2018, as well as a ban on unauthorised three-wheeler vehicles.
On Friday afternoon, a worker of Grameen Travels in the Shiroil Bus Terminal said they are cleaning their counter "as there is no pressure from passengers today (Friday)."
Many restaurants around the bus terminals remained closed on Friday as their main customers were the passengers. Although few restaurants opened, they rarely got any customers. Most of the tea stalls in the area were also found closed.
Easy bike fare has also increased in the city due to the strike causing suffering to the low earning people.
"I live in Baneshwar, Puthia. The easy bike fare from Rajshahi to Baneshwar was Tk20, but it has not increased to Tk70. However, at night, the easy bike drivers even claim Tk100 for the same distance," said a restaurant worker from the Shiroil Bus Terminal area.
Jharna Begum, who came to Rajshahi from Chapainawabganj, was travelling to Natore by easy bike.
"I did not know about the strike. One of my aunts in Rangpur is very ill. I must go there. I have to count extra fares for this," she said.