Dhaka’s History Waiting to be Divided
oshairhat is the 111th municipality of Bangladesh but the first municipality was undoubtedly Dhaka. Today’s tremendously commercial, industrial, financial, sporting and cultural Dhaka was not the same in 400 years back. Politically very powerful, the capital city, the administrative headquarters of the Bangladesh is still growing though not healthily. It has grown all around, covering an area of some 360 square km and having a population of over 9.1 million. A considerable number of the inhabitants are very rich, thanks to capitalistic concentration of wealth. It is also home to the rising number of ‘Bangladeshi’ rich people. Most of the 28,000 crorepatis live here. No need to articulate that the creation of the independent state of Bangladesh in 1971 bestowed on Dhaka the glory and prestige of the capital of a sovereign country. This led to Dhaka’s phenomenal growth though not in a very planned way.
Dhaka has a comparatively long history. Its continuation in the pre-Muslim period is cumbersome to trace with certainty. But it grew as an urban centre in the Sultanate period and rose into prominence in the Mughal period when it enjoyed the position of a provincial capital. In 1800 and onward, Dhaka was a place of some importance especially in the pre-Mughal period, but it came to the limelight of history under the Mughals. The city then was a beautiful one, with greens available, dozens of canals, lots of playgrounds, open spaces. At the second phase, the turn down of the political power of the nawabs of Bengal and the rise of the East India Company led to the diminishing of the administrative importance of Dhaka in the late 18th century. In addition, the commercial and manufacturing policies of the East India Company wrecked the financial bases of the city. This naturally led to the shrinking of the physical extent of the city to such a degree that by the beginning of the 19th century Dhaka was a shadow of its former self. Its administrative importance, its trade and manufactures were virtually gone. Likewise its cultural and social activities dwindled greatly.
In the Mughal era Dhaka developed rapidly due to its advantageous geographical setting and its political and administrative significance as the capital. And later as the sub-capital of a very wealthy and ingenious province its prospered internally and externally. Trade in famous manufactures, especially the Muslin went up. At its climax during the Mughal period, the city with its suburbs was said to encompass a population of some 900,000. The population comprised graciousness, high officials, business people, soldiers, manufacturers, traders and service people of various kinds. The inhabitants were of different races and religions. The city proper stretched seven to ten miles along the Buriganga and up to two and a half miles inland. The suburbs extended from the Buriganga to the Tongi Bridge, fifteen miles to the north, and from Mirpur-Jafarabad on the west some ten miles east to Postogola. The administrative importance of Dhaka further grew dramatically during the years 1905-11 when it was made the capital of the new province of East Bengal and Assam. The superstructure of a provincial administration was introduced with different departments and various high and middle-ranking officials.
Thirty six years ticked by. There was no movement, visible development. If we look further, after 1947 the Dhaka municipal government underwent from the contradictory demands of political pragmatism and administrative efficiency. Following the dawn of Pakistan in 1947, Dhaka became the capital of the new province of East Bengal. And thus this rise in the status of the city did not straight away modify the status of its local government, which was a metropolis. The municipal government of Dhaka set up in 1864 was suitable for the type of urban centre which then it was a small divisional headquarters. It then covered vicinity comprising approximately some 8 square miles with a population of some 52,000. In view of the prevailing disordered circumstances soon after the partition and the movement of population the ordinary activities of the then Dhaka Municipality suffered much and the administration could not be carried out in the old manners. Even the periodical election of the municipal commissioners and chairman and vice-chairmen could not be held because of the mammoth change in the electoral roll and other inconveniences. This situation lasted until 1958 when the country came under the military rule and municipal bodies along with other local bodies were perched on the brink and senior civil servants and other local officers were entrusted with the job of running the municipal bodies.