Dr Manisha Chakrabarty is a young politician, also a physician, who consciously rejected the comfort of a government job to serve the public at large. She is the first woman mayoral candidate in the history of Barisal City Corporation polls. Manisha, representing the Socialist Party of Bangladesh, courageously says, a struggling life of 30 years is much more glorious than having 30 years of experience in corruption. Mahtab Uddin Ahmed talks to her about political struggles and dreams for New Age Youth Manisha Chakraborty is a young politician, also a physician, who consciously rejected the.
New Age Youth: How did you come in politics?
Dr Manisha Chakraborty: I grew up with revolutionary politicians around me. I spent my childhood with Hiren De, Ranidi (Rani Bhattacharya). They were the torchbearer in those fiery days against British colonialism. Ranidi participated in the Language Movement. They were our neighbours. I grew up in a secular and progressive environment. Monoroma Basu lived the last years of her life in our home. In our home, we had a large collection of books and it included Russian literature that my uncle Dwijen Sharma (naturalist and science writer and translator Dwijen Sharma, who died last year) sent from Russia. My interest in socialism transformed into active participation in political struggles began when I was in the second year of my medical education, then I got involved in student politics, joined the Socialist Party of Bangladesh. The Socialist Party of Bangladesh is the guide of my politics to express the obligation to society.
New Age Youth: After graduation, when everyone wants to pursue government jobs, you rejected that possibility and decided to engage in full-time politics. What was the motivation behind it?
Dr Manisha Chakraborty: The future of Bangladesh is uncertain if the direction of the politics is not changed. The political sphere is now occupied by a handful of corrupt, profit-mongering businessmen; politics in their hand is spreading individualist, opportunist self-serving mentality in the society. I got the opportunity to become a government doctor. I thought, instead of giving treatment to a few people, it is more important for me to treat the chronic disease of the society. Although I refused to serve as a government doctor, I visit patients gladly without any fees in a number of economically marginalised areas where mostly labourers live.
New Age Youth: Considering the recent histories of rigged election in Bangladesh, why have you decided to compete? Do you think under the circumstances you would be able to make any impact?
Dr Manisha Chakraborty: Circumstance is always changing. And for a change, struggle is absolutely necessary. We are competing in election to create a space for credible politics and trust beyond the two leading parties. From the people of Barisal, we have already got a very good response. Alternative power and change are people’s demand, desire. Through our honesty, courage and political struggle, we are able to gain that trust, people see their desire and demand as realisable reality now. Our youth, education and political struggle have made us different from other candidates. If a fair and free election takes place, we hope we will be in a competitive position and achieve good result.
New Age Youth: As a comparatively younger person, you are competing in mayoral election of a divisional city. How confident are you in this regard?
Dr Manisha Chakraborty: A struggling life of 30 years is much more glorious than having 30 years of experience in corruption. Should we want to change the existing scenario of politics in Bangladesh, there is no alternative to the power of youth. To establish a politics of social change through breaking the cycle of luttaraz (plunder) of the two political parties, we need the youth in power. We want to trigger this change in politics.
New Age Youth: Who are your main supporters?
Dr Manisha Chakraborty: All the people who want change are our supporters. This time 30,000 young voters are going to cast their vote for the first time. We think the new generation wants to get rid of corruption and terror. We hope a large portion of these young voters will support us. Moreover, I am the first women mayor candidate in the history of Barishal City Corporation election. To make a women-friendly city corporation, the women voters will also give us support — as we think. In the labour movements of Barishal, we are the most active. Twenty-five labour leaders including me were arrested on April 19, 2018 when we were leading a movement of rickshaw pullers. Later we were slapped with false case. We have a history of actively organising for the rights of slum dwellers. We think these struggling people will be with us.
New Age Youth: What type of work you are doing now as a candidate? What is your daily routine?
Dr Manisha Chakraborty: We consider election as part of the larger movement to establish people’s rights. For the last ten years, we have been present in every movement in Barishal. Long before the election campaign has started, we published a booklet describing our views for public. In that booklet, we have presented our party views on how to make Barishal City Corporation a people friendly administration. Four months ago, to develop a culture of people’s participation, we have already installed 200 clay made coin boxes in various places — rickshaw garages, restaurants, and residents of people — so that mass people can provide finance for us and they can feel an ownership. Therefore, we are actually bearing our election related cost with the finance of mass people. Every day we are going to various places of the city and presenting our view to people through street meetings and direct conversations with people. We are also using the social media for everyday campaign work.
New Age Youth: So far have you faced any problem while campaigning for the election? How have you solved that?
Dr Manisha Chakraborty: As we have strong base among the mass people through various movements, the ruling party and the local administration are apparently engaged in disinformation campaign and churning conspiracy against us. The recent police attack on a bhukha-michil (hunger-procession) of battery driven rickshaw pullers and filing a case against 66 of us and mentioning me as the prime accused are part of that political conspiracy. But, so far, we have resisted these attacks and cases through mass supports. At present, in various labour areas and slums, our activists are being threatened. We have verbally informed the district commissioner and election commission about the matter.
New Age Youth: On one hand, you are a young candidate and on other hand, you are a woman. Do you think, being a young woman struggle is much harder for you?
Dr. Manisha Chakraborty: I am the first woman mayoral candidate of Barisal City Corporation polls. This is completely a new thing for many, that’s why I have to put extra efforts while explaining my position to people. Moreover, there is also a reactionary response in the society against women in leadership. However, for my continuous, active presence in the movements for people’s rights and demands in Barisal, people mainly treat me as a political leader beyond my gender identity and age. My lasting involvement in the local movements made an impact, therefore, being woman and young is not creating as many obstacles.
New Age Youth: What have you learnt from people while campaigning?
Dr. Manisha Chakraborty: People want change, but in the backdrop of rigged Khulna and Gazipur city corporation polls, people have doubt about free and fair election. I must say one thing — we are amazed by people’s response, it was beyond our expectation, and their desire for alternative. In many areas, people are campaigning on our behalf, in such places where we did not know that we have supporters. We have come to know these people through this election campaign and conversations. Labours have collectively donated nearly Tk 50,000 of their hard earned money for our election campaign. My comrades are volunteering for almost 24 hours. Such honesty, love and sincerity of people have touched my heart.
New Age Youth: Do you want to say anything for today’s youth?
Dr. Manisha Chakraborty: I want to say just one thing — the duty of the youth is pushing the society for advancement through rejecting the corrupt thoughts of our mainstream politician in power. If we want to break this totally corrupt system, we have to create alternative political power of mass people and without youth’s hand and participation that is not possible. So I want to say to the youth that if you want change, take the responsibility on your shoulder and participate in the struggle for a change.
New Age Youth: Do you want to say anything for the women?
Dr. Manisha Chakraborty: A progressive political, social and cultural uprising is necessary for women if they want to move forward breaking all the social obstacles they face. And this is not only the fight of women, but also the fight of men.
Mahtab Uddin Ahmed is an editorial assistant at New Age.