Her challengers change, but Ivy vanquishes them with her charisma

She locked horns with a leader of her own party in the first elections to Narayanganj City Corporation, squared off against an opposition candidate in the second and battled it out with a leader of the opposition party in the third. But Salina Hayat Ivy has dominated every single one of her rivals in the one-sided race.

And every time she appears to clearly touch a responsive chord with the voters with natural charisma and daunting magnetism. But how does she pull it off without the trappings of the popularity of her late father Ali Ahmed Chunka, the first chairman of the Narayanganj municipality?

The 55-year old physician-turned-politician herself offered: “I never lied to the people or gave them false promises to win their trust."

"Above all, I loved the people and they returned [the favour] every time,” said Ivy after being re-elected as the Awami League nominee for the mayor’s office for a third term on Sunday by defeating Taimur Alam Khandaker, a BNP leader.

Like in the past two polls, Ivy wore a casual cotton saree during the voting. "I’m 100 percent confident that we’ll win, by the grace of God, as I have a close connection to the people in this city,” she said after casting her vote.

In the evening, as thousands of her supporters gathered outside her home to celebrate, she faced the media wearing a red and green silk saree that matched the festive mood at her makeshift campaign office.

“All the elections were different in how they challenged me. Overcoming the hurdles led to success. But at the root of what has happened is the public support, without which I could not even stand in Narayanganj,” she said.

A foreign-trained medical practitioner by profession, Ivy joined the city politics nearly two decades ago, riding on the popularity of father Chunka.

Ivy had joined Bangladesh Chhatra League as an intern in Mitford Hospital after gaining her medical degree from Russia in 1992.

In 1994, she joined the 200-bed hospital in Narayanganj and a year later, left for New Zealand to pursue higher studies.

The mother of two sons, Ivy returned to the country, though her husband Quazi Ahsan Hayat stayed back in New Zealand.

Her foray into the Narayanganj Awami League began in 2002 by running in municipality elections.

She held together the Awami League in Narayanganj during the 2001-2006 BNP-Jamaat-e-Islami government when the political climate was stifling for the party.

Ivy had served as the chairperson of the Narayanganj municipality for eight years and emerged as the main challenger of the powerful Osman family that had returned to dominate the Awami League politics in Narayanganj after the end of the military-backed caretaker regime.

In 2011, Ivy took on AKM Shamim Osman in the first civic polls after Narayanganj municipality had been upgraded to a city corporation.

Taimur initially had enjoyed his party’s backing, but boycotted the polls on the eve of voting, falling in line with the central leadership’s decision.

Although the political parties could not directly nominate a candidate in city polls at that time, top Awami League leaders favoured Shamim. Much to their embarrassment, Ivy sank him with a margin of over 100,000 votes. 

Five years later, the BNP fielded Shakhawat Hossain, a lawyer-cum-politician. Ivy, running on an Awami League ticket, ran away with the election with a difference of nearly 80,000 votes.

This time the margin of her victory was about 67,000. The turnout was 50 percent, meaning some 250,000 voters cast their ballots.

Shamim said he voted for the Awami League candidate, without taking Ivy’s name, as the bitter rivalry between them rages on.

When the early results in the evening put Ivy on course, a reporter asked whether Shamim congratulated her.

Ivy’s response was cold: “Maybe he will.”

The massive margins of her victories on the bounce have helped her emerge from the shadows of her father to come of age and created her own place in the political folklore.

[Written in English by Osham-ul-Sufian Talukder and edited by Biswadip Das]