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No politics in parks, please

  • Published at 07:29 pm November 8th, 2018
A headache for all
A headache for all SYED ZAKIR HOSSAIN

Why can’t our leaders be a bit more creative with their campaigning?

As election campaigns are in full swing, political rallies are being held every day across the country, particularly in parks, playgrounds, and even on the streets. 

Some days ago, a political rally was held in the neighbourhood playground in Mirpur, where I live. Before the day of the event, for about a week, I noticed large amounts of bamboo were being transported and piled up at the Eidgah playground, impeding the kids to continue their sports.

Then steadily, each day, plenty of labourers were seen building an overhead shelter with bamboos all around the ground. Tent cloth was draped overhead. As the final day approached, banners, posters, signs shrouded the whole ward. And on the rally day, loud speakers reverberated through the entire neighbourhood. Even after shutting all the doors and windows, it was impossible to stay undisturbed inside homes.

At the election campaign rally, the chief guest was there for a little over an hour. However, the rally ended before dark fell. But it took another few days for the playground to get back to its normal condition. Just to remove the bamboo structure took three days.

So, these political rallies which are held occupying the public parks and playgrounds, who and what are they for? Do the general public have any interest in them? Forget those days of the 60s and 70s. Back in those tumultuous periods, when Sheikh Mujibur Rahman held a rally, thousands of people travelled from far-flung places just to see and hear their leader. But those days are gone. Practically, no one goes to a political rally anymore but the party-men and their associates.

Therefore, the reason our political leaders spend such time and money in campaigning turns out to be meaningless. It does not matter that a party-nominated candidate puts up zillions of posters on every single wall of an area -- the minds of the general public do not sway.

A 2016 study by Work for Better Bangladesh Trust (WBB) revealed that the majority of open spaces in Dhaka are used by government agencies and private organizations, limiting public access.

In the UK and the US, I have seen myriads of parks and playgrounds which, compared to our country, remain virtually empty. Of course, the density of population in those countries is not even close to ours. But the dearth of playgrounds and parks in our cities is shocking. Any day in the afternoon you visit your local playground (if there is any), you will be stunned to see that the dirty and dusty ground is brimming with boys playing cricket and football.

So many matches go on at the same time in a small field that you will fear any time any kid might be knocked down by an unannounced ball flying from anywhere. Strangely, this thing rarely happens.

Holding a political rally in an open space means depriving kids of their playtime, exacerbating the city traffic, causing immense noise pollution, dirtying the vicinity with litter, ruining the surrounding views putting up countless banners and posters, and so on.

Above all, not even a handful of commoners can be found who have time to attend and hear the jaded political preaching. Instead, these kinds of rallies create ghastly worries and disturbances for the neighbourhood people. 

So what can be done? How can our political campaigns be made more effective and productive?

First off, political rallies should be held and arranged indoors, not in open and public places. We can look at other developed countries. Their elections do not hamper the daily lives of their people.

In Yuval Noah Harari’s best-selling book 21 Lessons for the 21st Century, the writer says that those who own data own the future. He asserts that Big Data algorithms might create digital dictatorships in which all power is concentrated in the hands of an elite minority. 

Facebook now dominates our lives. During the 2016 US Presidential elections, Facebook allegedly played a tectonic role in Donald Trump’s win. 

In the age of indefatigable social media, AI, and almighty technology, the pattern of political campaigns around the globe have changed massively. Each country, when elections happen to be in the offing, consider online and social media sites one of the significant tools to influence the hearts of voters. 

So why not Bangladesh? Why can’t our leaders be a tad more creative? Maybe they should seriously think of going live on Facebook or Twitter as part of their electioneering. Or they could run campaign advertising on social media and television.

That would surely be an excellent move as well as attract more attention of the general populace. 

Rahad Abir is a writer.