August 8, 2013
At first look, it may seem to be just another Real Estate advertisement. But city dwellers were dumbfounded to see that, it was actually a billboard, in different parts of Dhaka city, displaying the progress of elevated highways, imminently as a “success” of the incumbent government of Bangladesh Awami League. According to the government sources, 250 billboards were “requisitioned” to advertise the “success story” of Awami League government. However the owners of these billboards, who are traditionally happened to be businessmen from different firms, told Prothom Alo that the actual number of billboards that has been “taken over” overnight is more than 400.
This is the first time in Bangladesh’s history that, people are observing the use of billboards to campaign for any political party, especially when the election is knocking on the door. Private sector businesses used to compete with each other to grab billboard spaces for their products. These billboards may be suggesting a new era of marketeering; where along with “PVT vs. PVT”, it is going to be a “PVT vs Public” sector competition as well. So far, political campaigns in general used plastic banners, paper posters and leaflets. It is only this time that, any political campaign resorted to private firm styled glamorous billboard advertisement bonanza.
Proponents of this new visibility of Awami League’s “successes” argued that, by taking resort to “billboards” at the end of the day, AL will come back to people for vote. This is a good sign for democracy. On the other hand critiques are not convinced. The major question that has been raised is, would such kind of monopoly-like practice end up into a level playing field for all political parties? Would the government allow such advertisements by the opposition, by BNP, or by Jamaat?
Even the government has not denied that the hefty amount of money that has been used for all these advertisements allocated from different “development” projects by different ministries. Several “original” owners of these billboards are facing loss of tens of millions of taka. The general secretary of Billboard owners association, Haji Mohammad Rashed told the press that, they had to break their deeds with business firms, because of “pressure from authorities”.
However Awami League officials have straight away denied any kind of involvement with the whole process. They said, it is under the jurisdiction of the government. But no comment from AL is found about the fact that, it is a one of a kind monopoly-like practice, which is unprecedented in Bangladesh’s political history. No matter how bad or “democracy friendly” this particular political gesticulation might be, one thing that is sure beyond any doubt, this unprecedented “billboard campaign” will inevitably create “precedence” for all elections to come. Most probably, alike many western democracies, Bangladesh is going to enter a more romanticized and commercialized form of political propaganda. Welcome to the incorporated world of Bangladeshi politics.
Source: BD Chronicle