TODAY is the 15th day of a campaign that I am actively part of. With the Dhaka North City Corporation Election approaching in about a week, I have entered a hectic public space. My public engagement has always been limited because of my personal choice. I have always believed that it is not possible to take a position when one is a beneficiary. Hence I have actively maintained a distance from public spotlight and public attention. But thrust into the political space overnight, I have today become an active campaigner of a candidate, my husband. But this column is not about him, his experience, or his credibility. This column will only cover what I am experiencing on the ground.
A crucial element in any campaign is a microphone. This tool along with a slogan vouching for the symbol is essential for the candidate. A candidate feels safe and confident when there are people around him or her. This is a reality. But while this is the truth, there is another side of the story that remains unaddressed and unattended. While I fall back on the pace in the drill, I actively pitch my objective and make eye contact with as many as possible. By asking for a vote for the candidate, I am also taking a serious responsibility on my shoulder of accountability. While I am the wife, my face automatically is getting registered with the voters and at the end of the day, he or she will be returning home talking about me, the wife who asked for a single vote. I have made it a point to beg for votes with extreme courtesy, just because every single voter needs a glance of an extra assurance. The West does not have this practice, but we do. Touching every hand is not a requirement in other places, but this necessity may have sprung from a general feeling of dissatisfaction on the voters’ side along with an extra dose of anti-incumbency factor, which may or may not be justified.
During campaign, a specific group catches my maximum attention. This usual group is usually a bunch of young people who are either enjoying tea at local tea stall or just gathering around a corner trying to catch a glance of cricket. This group is also often playing carom, or engrossed in Facebook. With 45 percent of young voters eligible to vote for electing the mayor of Dhaka, the scenario is challenging. While engaging with them, I found many of them reluctant to vote for anyone. Many view politics as a game, which they are unwilling to be a part of. However, at what point and in which year did politics become a deadly game in this country? We must pose this question to ourselves and look into the mirror.
As a campaigner, I find it worthwhile to engage with the young every time I sense that they want to remain as sideline critics. Watching talk shows, taking part in them and engaging in social media help, but being in politics is another ball game altogether. While the young may have an apathy towards politics, it is essential for us to tell our children that they are Bangladesh and that if they don’t actively get involved in politics, and refrain from voting, then not only are they losing out in the process but our land is also the one that will suffer the most. While we engage with them, we also need to tell them that the change that they want to see must come from within and that while it may take a few years for them to come and enter the active political scene, now is the time for them to vote and to become a part of the political sphere.
My appeal lies in asking all to vote. I sense absolute pleasure and spirit in slum dwellers wanting to vote in spite of their abject poverty. During campaign, I take a moment to photograph slums, so that I can sharpen my sense of gratitude to my Almighty along with remembering the moment I am part of. But there are also other photographs that are being taken all around, which none of us have any control over. A random walk may have random strangers that none of the mayoral aspirants recognise and the next morning, there may be red circles around faces that threaten the democratic practices in the country, and these faces may be running beside or behind the mayoral candidates or their campaigners, but this does not stand as an endorsement from the aspirants or the campaigners themselves.
Consider two cases: one is of the ultra poor wanting to take the responsibility of being a part of the political process in reality, and the other is of a few who want to remain on the fence and sway as per the virtual reality online. As responsible citizens, we must correct this contrast now. If there are areas in politics that need to be addressed, the best way to do this would be to swim in the deep sea and fight the sharks that plant and promote conspiracy, terror and violence, irrespective of the party or political affiliation. If people want responsible and a cleaner face to come to politics, then the need to differentiate between what the candidate currently offers and what may be a leftover of a rotten system.
As a city, we want Dhaka to be the safest haven ever and we also want it to be in the safest hand. Wishing all the mayoral aspirants the best of luck in the race ahead, I sign off today…
as just a Dhakabashi.