Saturday, August 11, 2012

Time for Dr. Mohammad Yunus to make the hard choice
Holiday, Agust 10th., 2012
M. Serajul Islam

Stephen Succor has done both Dr. Mohammad Yunus and the Grameen Bank harm, albeit unwittingly. If he had not hosted the Prime Minister on Hard Talk, then she would not have been reminded before a worldwide audience how much the world respects the Noble Laureate and feels angry and upset at the way he is being treated by the government in his own country.  Nor would the respect that the Grameen Bank commands in the world outside Bangladesh been flagged to her. 

Upon her return from London, both have been again put under the spanner. The cabinet has passed an order stripping the Grameen Bank stakeholders of their powers that they were exercising through the Board of Directors where most of the members are ordinary Grameen Bank members who have risen through poverty and discrimination to sit on the Board of an institution that has won the Noble Prize and is held in the highest esteem around the world. The Board’s powers will now be exercised by a government appointed Chairman! As for Dr. Yunus, the authorities will hold an inquiry whether he should return to the government his salary and perks that he has taken from the institution beyond the age of sixty as under the rules, he should have retired from the Bank at that age! 

In her Hard Talk interview, the Prime Minister said that she has nothing personal against the Noble Laureate. When asked why she called him a blood sucker of the poor, the Prime Minister’s response was quick. She retorted:  “How could he (Dr. Yunus) say I said it? Did I mention him? I didn’t. I said someone.” Therefore, if we are to believe the Prime Minister, the decisions of the cabinet must have been inspired by its desire to uphold the law that does not distinguish between a Noble Laureate and an ordinary citizen of the country. One just wishes that the cabinet would show the same courage on all that is happening around it and not just on Dr. Yunus and the Grameen Bank to show their concern and respect for the law. If they would have, then Bangladesh’s perennial concerns about good governance that is standing between it and threats of failing as a state, would be over. 

The latest initiatives regarding Dr. Mohammad Yunus and the Grameen Bank no doubt point at the government’s intention to make both the Noble Laureate and the GB succumb to the complete domination of the authorities. Dr. Yunus’ reaction was to issue a statement in which he has appealed to the people to stand behind him and stop the government from destroying the institution for the poor. He said in his statement: “I am very disheartened to see that the poor is being deprived of the ownership of the bank they run and of the power to exercise their ownership.” The Noble Laureate seems to have submitted himself to his destiny. 

The Prime Minister and members of the government and the ruling party have said repeatedly that Dr. Yunus has turned the United States and the World Bank against Bangladesh. The fact is, as was clear at the Hard Talk, it is not just the United States that is surprised and concerned at what has been happening to the Noble Laureate and the GB, the rest of the world is equally surprised and worried. Nevertheless, as for Dr. Yunus and GB, the worries and the concerns of the world are simply not helping. The government is getting more and more determined to grind both to the dust and winning. In fact, praises at the world stage for Dr. Yunus and the Bank are encouraging the government towards punitive and destructive actions against both. 

Therefore it would not do Dr. Yunus much good, in fact any at all, by appealing to the people in the country or abroad to come to his and GB’s assistance. It is time that Dr. Yunus is reminded about the truth in the saying that God helps those who help themselves. It is time for him to stand up and fight. Of course, he would not be able to make any headway if he stood alone and tried to fight the government. Fighting the government would in fact be fighting the ruling party and would have to be a political choice that the Noble Laureate must make.  

His major mistake in the past has been his intention and announcement to form a political party before the emergency in 2007 and then to quickly retract on that intention after the emergency. He missed a major opportunity at that time by his lack of focus and perhaps by his disinclination to make the hard choice for himself and the country. That ill conceived intention has also been one major reason for his current woes and those of the Grameen Bank. 

Times have changed. When he had expressed his intention to float his party, there was widespread disenchantment among the people with both the mainstream political parties. Dr. Yunus was then heading the Grameen Bank that had 8 million members spread all over Bangladesh. Had he carried through his intention to form the political party to fight the mainstream parties, he could have made an impact. He could have used his GB network to reach the people. Civil society groups who were desperately seeking a third force in politics would also have joined his efforts in politics. Because of his failure to make the hard choice, that chance was lost.. Today he finds himself just an individual, albeit a famous one but in any case without any institutional support. 

It is time for him to build that support if he wants to save himself and his institution for no matter what the Government says about the Grameen Bank, at the level of the people, no one has any doubt that the institution is his creation and he has been unfairly thrown out of it. For Dr. Yunus, it is time to touch base with reality; the reality of Bangladesh’s politics. Wittingly or otherwise, he had challenged both the mainstream parties by his desire to form a political party and incurred the displeasure of one of them that now forms the government. If he wants to clear his name and claim his creation, he has to fight it out politically. He should take heart at the outcry in his favour after the latest government actions against him and the GB that have been articulated by Dr. Kamal Hossain, Dr. Mirza Aziz and Dr. Hossain Zillur Rahman who have demanded an explanation from the Government. 

His first step should be to reach out to the civil society. It is good to see that he has been coming out into the open recently and the media is no longer afraid to cover him.  In fact, he should make good use of the media with a clearly thought out policy. He would be surprised to find that there is tremendous amount of goodwill for him among the people. The government’s efforts to humiliate him notwithstanding, the people are proud of him. He has to turn that goodwill for political gains. The only way to turn that goodwill for good purpose is to enter politics formally. 

Of course, it is too late for him to form his own political party. He of course cannot join the Awami League because the party would not want him anyway, not as long as the Prime Minister is heading the party. It would also not be appropriate for him to join the BNP given the realities of the politics of the country. He could of course join one of the many parties that are around that have none of the baggage that the two mainstream parties are carrying at the moment. 

That would give him the platform to talk of politics of the country that is hardly going the way the people would like. The frustration that people suffered under the last caretaker government has returned with the discussion everywhere for a third force in politics. In such discussions, no one really sees the possibility of such a force in politics emerging to challenge either of the two mainstream parties and going to power on its own. Nevertheless, with a third force with Dr. Mohammad Yunus in it could emerge as the party to hold the balance between the two mainstream parties and create the pressure upon both to mend their ways. 

Such a force could negotiate with either of the mainstream parties its own agenda of clean and people oriented politics and be a part of the one that accepts its agenda to contest the next elections. In her Hard Talk programme, the Prime Minister has sent the message to Dr. Mohammad Yunus. She has asked him, unwittingly though, to show what he is worth, not to the outside world but to the people of Bangladesh. It is time he made his hard choice and took up the Prime Minister’s challenge. His greatest asset is his charm and his ability to reach out to the people at level of world leaders as well as the ordinary folks trying to break the shackles of poverty. 

Dr. Mohammad Yunus may be surprised to find that his greatest reaching out could still be awaiting him, among the people of Bangladesh. He may not become the next Prime Minister of Bangladesh but by making the hard choice, he may gain the political power necessary to save his image, the Grameen Bank and in the bargain, bring some positive changes in the politics of Bangladesh that the country desperately needs.

The writer is a retired career diplomat and former Ambassador

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