Monirul Haque
Prothom Alo illustration

At the final hour of electioneering, local MP from ruling Awami League AKM Bahauddin’s refusal to not to leave the area even after election commission’s letter to him in this regard has created controversy. The EC did not take any step despite it had the scope. The voting in the Cumilla City Corporation election will be held on Wednesday. Prothom Alo’s Selim Zahid and Gaziul Haque talked to one of the competing candidates, Monirul Haque.

Election commission could not force Awami League lawmaker AKM Bahauddin to leave the area. What’s your take on that?

I have filed a written complaint about what I have seen as a candidate. We filed the written complaint knowing that the MP cannot take part in electioneering in his constituency. They (the EC) issued the letter to him (lawmaker from Cumilla sadar constituency AKM Bahauddin) after finding the allegations true in their investigation. Even after getting the letter the order is not being implemented, he is staying in the area.

What does it suggest?

It suggests the election commission has failed. Why did he (Chief Election Commissioner) issue letter when he can’t do anything. The chief election commissioner directly said, forcing an MP to leave his constituency is not their task. Then, whose responsibility is this? I don’t know the law much. If there’s no such law, then the MP can stay.

You said the EC has failed. What will be the effect if it fails?

Failure means the election commission has stumbled in the very first step. Why was the letter issued to the MP, there is one reason only. And, it was issued as there is jurisdiction. I was a mayor of the city corporation. He is the new CEC. He stumbled at the very beginning, he can’t do it.

Will this spread despair among the voters?

It is the CEC who would be in despair. Why should we be? What would be the difference in his (indicating the MP) staying and leaving? I have to accept the voting results. But the law is equal for all. You talk about level playing field; is there any level field here?

Since you have raised the issue of level playing field, you already have alleged that your activists are being threatened…

That’s true.

Do you fear something like that even on the voting day?

I can’t say that in advance but it seems the situation is heading towards that. MP’s (Bahauddin’s) people are not good. Selim Khan (of ward no. 14) is a three-time councillor. He was harassed, beaten, even his son was beaten. At the same time, councillor of war no. 22, Shah Alam Majumder, was also beaten. What do these incidents refer to? A candidate is being beaten up but police do not take any action for that? Voters would be assured if police take action against the accused. There could be incidents, but there should be attempt to prevent those. Police went to the spot but did not take action.

If things go like this, what would happen in voting?

We have to compete in the election no matter what.

That means whatever happens you would stay till the end?

I must see till the end because I have been competing in the election for the people. Election is for fulfilling the aspirations of people, not mine.

When the EC could not budge the MP, how would you work with him if elected mayor of CCC?

This is a legal matter. Listen, I was elected mayor twice, once was chairman and have been doing politics for the last 42 years. Those who do politics have big heart. He is a politician, as do I. I will counter politics with politics. If I do anything unjust, the government will look into it. Who is he to send me to jail? At best, he can inform the government.

But you have run the city corporation for so many years along with MP Bahauddin …

Yes, I’ve done everything, still I do that. Now the government is of Awami League. The local government ministry instructed me to work with the MP for any fund or work. This is in the law. He also wants development, I also want development. We came together because of our mutual interest. This is how it happens. In Chattogram, Mohiuddin Khan was a mayor during the government of BNP. Didn’t he compromise with the BNP government for the sake of development?

Yes, you could ask me, what would happen in the future. Where there’s no cow, you have to use horse for tilling. I will act on my own and will continue as far I can survive. I have been contesting in the polls. It’s alright he (the MP) has fielded his candidate. If he is better than me, he would win, otherwise I’ll win. There will be a change in person only, either he or me. I did not want to sour our relation for that. But the caustic way they have been talking … that’s not right. We have come to this place doing politics. We have seen everything – jail, fine etc.

Are you apprehending harassment and oppression from the government, if you lose the election?

Government oppression – it doesn’t matter. If the government doesn’t allow me to pass, that even doesn’t matter. They have the EVM (electronic voting machine) system, manpower, administration – everything in their favour. Whether there is a change in Cumilla city or not, it won’t affect her. Did she face any loss in the two times I was the city mayor? I evaluated her and that’s why I’ve become an outcast within the party (BNP).

There is a discussion that you have become a challenge for the established power in Cumilla?

Yes, I also say so. If I did not compete in the election, there would not have been a better person than me to Bahar bhai (MP Bahauddin), that’s the reality. If I did not have competed in the election, he would have told people, there’s no one better than Sakku (pen name of Monirul Haque). I do a party. I have surveyed for three months, mixed with people in the two terms, and listened to their pains and joys. They also listened to me. I realised they have faith in me. There is Bahar bhai in one side and then my party has fielded a candidate so that I lose. I have been facing both.

Who did field the candidate from your party? What’s the impact you are seeing?

I’m a two-time mayor and have been competing this time. Everything has a symptom, even for fever. I did not see any symptom of his (indicating another candidate Mohammad Nizamuddin) competition. One tried to do the electioneering two months ago but stopped. Now he is a brother-in-law of former MP Yasin (Amin Ur Rashid Yasin). He has fielded his brother-in-law to divert some of my voters. Having a few supporters and doing election is not the same thing.

You said you could not do many things for the development of the city. Then how could you hope, people would vote you?

One man cannot do everything. There is a matter of time as well. We are not an old city corporation like Dhaka, Chattogram, Rajshahi and Khulna. We are new. I was elected the mayor of a city corporation made by joining two pourashavas. I did not even know the tasks of city mayor. People elected me. I tried but at the same time could not do many things. I have been competing in the polls to do the tasks what I could not do earlier.

There is a mention of Tk 20 billion (2,000 crore) projects in the election manifestoes. Critics said the people’s representatives have eyes on the projects, especially the percentage?

Listen, Cumilla City Corporation is not outside of Bangladesh. You could say 10 per cent or any per cent – it’s everywhere. Now the tender bidding process is done online. Who would get the work, would the mayor, minister know it?

Earlier, you told Prothom Alo, you would run as per your judgment if you are elected. Or, would leave, if you can’t?

I still say the same. I’m staying strong; I’m not a person who bows under pressure. I’ve got many things, both from the party and personally, in my life. Got a car after my birth from my home. I was a mayor twice and handed over the power peacefully. What could be greater gift than this? What is there for me to fear?

Your slogan in the 2017 election manifesto was ‘Party is greater than individual and the country is greater than the party’. This time you have been competing going against the party decision. What does this suggest?

Yes, I still think party is greater than any individual and the country is greater than the party. I have been contesting in the polls to save Cumilla. If it were the parliament election and I competed, then that would have been a betrayal with the party.

What would you like to say to the BNP?

I’m not such a big leader that I would say anything to the party. I love BNP and I’m with the people who love BNP. These people have none but me.

Your main competitor, the Awami League nominated candidate mayoral candidate Arfanul Haque brought allegations of corruption against you. He even have used the word ‘thief’ against you …

How a person can be called a thief? It is the court that decides if a person was a thief. There is the local government ministry, there is the Anti-Corruption Commission – what’s their task? If he has got evidences against me, why doesn’t he file a case against me since publishing the white paper is a post-election matter? Especially, when they are so powerful now.

* This interview, originally published in the print and online edition of Prothom Alo, has been rewritten for the English edition by Shameem Reza