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Reporter's diary: Who will have the last laugh in Narayanganj?

  • Published at 11:20 am December 21st, 2016
  • Last updated at 11:37 am December 21st, 2016
Reporter's diary: Who will have the last laugh in Narayanganj?
Well before landing in Narayanganj proper, I saw posters. All black and white, strung over roads, shops and buildings. As the city centre grew closer this developed into full-blown canopies shadowing entire roads and alleyways. In Chashara, an already congesting traffic was being frequently interrupted by rapid processions, fast-moving and chanting one-word electoral symbols. Shouts of “Mobile!” “Radio!” “Badminton!” coming from all directions would have confounded anyone who did not know what was going on in this town. The port city of Narayanganj is split in the middle by the Shitalakkhya River. West side is more industrial while east is more commercial. Officially there are about 800,000 people in Narayanganj - but the 73 square km city may be home to many more. I asked Ward 15's councilor and current favourite Asit Baran Biswas how many voters and how many people he had. He said there were about 16,000 voters, but heck, there must be 50,000 people living here. The trade city is home to many migrant workers who live in densely populated slums and move about too often to be captured by any census or survey, which are few and far between. Under Bangladeshi law you cannot vote from two places. What about Motaleb Hossain then, a tiles store manager who has been living in this city for 25 years? He is registered in his village in Bagerhat, where his family lives, and therefore is not a voter in the city corporation. If about half the residents of the city do not have any say in its election process, how is this process inclusive and reflective of their will? While this is a big problem, it isn't a unique one, of course, and the solution isn't in the hands of these local politicians. [caption id="attachment_41162" align="aligncenter" width="800"]A town completely covered by campaigning poster poster Dhaka Tribune A town completely covered by campaigning poster poster Dhaka Tribune[/caption]

Who's winning this one?

One thing everyone in the city agrees upon is that Ivy is winning this election with her eyes closed. And this is not because the candidate is from the ruling party or because of her political legacy. People are happy with the mayor's work. Her reputation for honesty is undisputed among all quarters. The city's development, maintenance and accessibility is also well praised despite its limited manpower and resources. In contrast, BNP's Shakhawat has no experience at all. The veteran lawyer is well-known in his own party but he recently admitted that he was the high command's fourth choice because other senior leaders refused to take up the challenge. There is no one in Narayanganj now who can seriously challenge Ivy's credentials. “All of a sudden we get a new mayor, and what happens? All ongoing works will stumble and get gobbled up by corruption. It will take him a year to even learn the ropes,” one voter said to me. This is not to say that citizens do not have unmet needs. As population grows, traffic congestion has become a massive problem. At least three or four bridges should connect the two sides of the city, some people told me. "This crossing is so dangerous. Everyday at least 20-25,000 people cross the river to get to work and back. Every once in a while there is some tragedy.” One of the stranger things about this city is the absence of young people in the evening. There are no hangouts, no tea stalls full of young males, no teenage crowds moving together in shopping malls, of which there are quite a few. The reason is that this isn't a youth-friendly town. Narayanganj is all business, all the time. I spoke with a theatre activist who lamented that the lack of any form of cultural expression was pushing young people to drugs. The only auditorium in town is broken down and home to drug addicts, he said. There is no park, no sports ground, no recreation centre that the people can go to. His friend Amal Datta, a pharmacist, said since Narayanganj is a historic town, there are many old forts and buildings that can be turned into public attractions. But the city has paid no attention to these needs. "People have become more conscious. It's not about politics anymore, it's about the services we need," he said. Asit Baran, who has served as councillor for five years, said that since the corporation was formed by merging three municipalities, duties and responsibilities have gone up but resources haven't. Nevertheless, the council and the mayor had worked hard to make the corporation accessible to the public, he argued, and would continue to work for the city. And it seems that they have the public's confidence, for now at least.
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