Whatever façade may be manoeuvred to conceal the veiled intent, and no matter what lame excuses are assigned in regard to dissecting Dhaka City Corporation (DCC) into two; public perception is that the ruling Awami League (AL), headed by Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, was lamentably powerless to field a single person as candidate from the AL to match the overwhelming popularity enjoyed by Mayor Sadek Hossain Khoka who had been piloting the DCC for about a decade. The AL high command conducted intelligence surveys for years, pondered and desperately brooded over the matter for the past 1048 days; but could find none from among its old guard or not-so-old leaders to confront an electoral fight with a formidable mayoral candidate like Khoka, incidentally who is a leader of the opposition BNP which party —- in the words of Prime Minister herself —- is not only rival but ‘enemy’. Therefore, it all emanated from BNP- phobia, if you like.
The High Court questioned the legality of splitting the DCC into two and asked the government to explain why the bill should not be declared illegal and unconstitutional.
Could Khoka’s predecessor, the late M. Hanif, make Dhaka city mosquito-free by releasing millions of ‘Guppi’ fish into the drains, canals and ponds that were publicised to be larva eaters? No. Khoka too could not eradicate mosquitoes; but he will be remembered for at least one commendable job as he dedicated some of the city streets after the names of the Sector Commanders of our Liberation War.
Moreover, confirmed honesty made Khoka a people’s man; he was found to be a Mr. Clean in that during the two-year military-backed caretaker government a sizeable group of military officers opened an office in Nagar Bhaban, inspected several relevant dossiers, records and invited complaints from the public to determine corruption in the DCC but found none.
It is clear that dwellers of Dhaka city, scholars and intellectuals have a strong sentiment favouring one indivisible Dhaka city and they are passionately resenting the AL government’s narrow partisan interest. So in solidarity with the Dhakaites, well ahead of tabling the quixotic bill the AL has been morally defeated when Khoka voluntarily declared that he would NOT contest the next DCC mayoral election if the city remains undivided.
This act of Khoka reminds us of the tale that determined the truth. Claiming motherhood of a baby boy when two disputing women approached King Solomon, he ordered that the baby be bisected into two and given each half to each woman. “No!” cried the first woman, weeping. Then King Solomon spoke, “Give the first woman the child; she is the mother.”
Again, the incumbents have been crying hoarse that no institution must be headed by unelected persons. Then what can be a nastier hypocrisy than the stipulated organogram where there is proviso for two unelected persons as heads of the corporations?
What is needed is empowerment of the DCC to function independent of the diktat of the local government ministry in which respect both AL and BNP have been indifferent and unconcerned. We are told that as of now the DCC cannot employ even a menial staff without the permission of the ministry.
In glory, grandeur and heritage 400-year old Dhaka city has few parallels. Formally named Jahangir Nogor and built by the Mughals, she is witness to many extraordinary historical events: the emergence of Muslim consciousness facilitated by the Nawabs, setting up of the Dhaka University in 1920, the 1947 partition, the Language Movement from 1948 to 1952, the anti-Ayub Democratic movement, the heinous genocide perpetrated by the brutal Pakistani hordes and the Victory Day of 16 December 1971. So, sadly bifurcation of the city will mean deprivation of the northern half of the rich heritage that the city possesses.
Many great cities like New York, Shanghai, Tokyo, Kolkata and so on are under one single corporation as umbrella. When some administrative change was proposed for London city, which functions under one Mayor, citizens were requested to consider them in a space of some eight years. At long last a referendum was held to decide the matter. The DCC can certainly have 12 or more zonal offices for overseeing local problems; but splitting it is most unwise, imprudent and injudicious. But deplorably, Sheikh Hasina’s democratic government does not care a fig for the people.