Dr. Yunus finally decides to fight
The Holiday, July 18th., 2013
M. Serajul Islam
It is encouraging for the nation that Noble Laureate Dr. Mohammad Yunus is finally standing up for himself and the Grameen Bank. He allowed himself to be badgered/humiliated/belittled far too long by his adversaries. He watched silently the institution he built from scratch into one recognized worldwide that brought it and him the Noble Prize and the country great pride and the rare opportunity to revamp its very poor international image being demolished systematically. It has been the latest insensitive news that the Government is going to implement the decision of the Commission on Grameen Bank to divide the world famous institution into 19 parts to place it under the government’s control that has ended the Noble Lauareate's patience.
In the short time after the Government made its intention public, Dr. Yunus has shown the intention to take the fight to those who for reasons they alone can explain have been belittling and humiliating him and his achievements when some of the greatest leaders of our time of the likes of Nelson Mandela, President Barak Obama and others have expressed their support for him and the Grameen Bank as his friends and admirers. The Grameen Bank he created is today being replicated around the world for poverty alleviation. He is one of seven individuals who have won three of the greatest awards in current times, namely the Noble Peace Prize, the US Predident's Gold Medal and the Congressional Medal of Honour. These are not all his international achievements; there are far too many to easily make him the most honoured personality in the current international arena. His current preoccupation with Social Business has earned him even more recognition and many think that another Nobel Prize, this time in Economics, may be waiting for him.
With the Noble Laureate deciding enough is enough and vowing that he would not allow the Government to dismantle the Grameen Bank, there is now a bee line of politicians/ political parties who have suddenly felt the need to show that they are no longer afraid to be seen in public with him to support his cause and sympathise in his predicament. Perhaps this is so because the Noble Laureate has realized belatedly that he needs to stand for himself and the Grameen Bank in order to save his institution and his name, honour and dignity. The Finance Minister, no doubt surprised to find Dr. Yunus suddenly showing the intent to fight and no longer willing to play the role of the sparring partner for the Government, expressed both contempt and sarcasm when he said he knew too well all the time that the Noble Laureate is a "politician", like being a politician is a bad quality that Dr. Yunus has been hiding forgetting that he too has turned into a politician after a lifetime as a bureaucrat.
Dr. Yunus should take no offense in what the Finance Minister has said. In fact, he should thank the Minister for reminding him that he is a politician for that may be the way out of his current strange predicament of being honoured around the world yet being humiliated in his own country by his own government. Nevertheless, the FM's comment about Dr. Yunus was surely not complimentary. Perhaps like the Finance Minister, the Noble Laureate had also been having negative impression of a politician. The FM’s sarcastic comment should however encourage Dr. Yunus to look into whether being a politician is a bad thing after all. If he does, he will find that over two millenniums ago, the Greek philosopher Aristotle had said unequivocally that "man is by nature a political animal." Many brilliant minds after the great philosopher have likewise upheld the indispensability of politics for civilized existence.
These philosophers have stressed that it is crucial for human societies to channel this natural instinct present in all humans for good of all. Some societies have succeeded in doing this by ensuring that those upon whom the task of channeling political instincts has been given – the politicians- are those who can rise over their personal needs and interests to serve the common good. Others have failed in organizing the natural political instinct because the politicians upon whom the task has been given have used the trust to serve their own personal interests and needs. It is the latter societies that have given politics and politicians the bad name.
Nevertheless, politics is the only way for any society/country to move to a higher level through conflict resolution and decision making for common good. The objective for any society/country is thus to organize its politics for common good by ensuring that people with intent of serving the common good go into politics and become politicians. From this perspective, Bangladesh is struggling because its politics is not organized for the common good and most of those who have entered politics are not interested or bothered to work for the common good notwithstanding what they publicly profess all the time. When the Finance Minister was calling Dr. Yunus a politician, he was no doubt saying that the Noble Laureate is like the politician in Bangladesh, one interested in his own good while talking publicly of being interested in the common good, the qualities present in a hypocrite. The Prime Minister in her most recent comments about the NB has said exactly what the FM alluded in his comment; she has called Dr. Yunus “selfish” together with a host of other attributes that except the inner circles of the power establishment of Bangladesh, very few outside believe.
When history reflects on the period we are now passing, we will have to answer as a nation what made us belittle such a great man in his country of birth! Many great individuals have won the Noble Peace Prize but when one considers the history of all Noble Peace Laureates, Dr. Yunus stands out in a class by himself. Yet, we have suggested that a Noble Peace Prize can be won simply by being in the right company, sipping white wine and cheese to humiliate him! He has most recently been charged of wining the Noble Prize with the help of the Clinton Foundation that lobbied for him with the Noble Peace Prize Committee with funds provided by Telenor!! He has also been accused by his own government of corruption while running an institution that has been also awarded the Noble Prize with him without the charge being proved. In fact, a commission set by the Government itself found the charge’s untenable but that did not deter the government from hounding and pursuing him.
In choosing to belittle the Noble Laureate, the government has missed literally a God given instrument to further its foreign policy goals in which are embedded its own future and that of the country. Dr. Yunus could have opened Bangladesh’s doors to the powerful countries/institutions and individuals and with that the opportunity to further the country’s interests. It is not just that the government missed out on this opportunity; it has by the way it treated the Noble Laureate in the face of requests from these quarters for a fair treatment for him, annoyed and upset them by turning down the requests with disdain. Therefore, when this government needed these governments/institutions/individuals for assisting it for Bangladesh’s interests, they have declined.
The withdrawal of GSP by USA is a case in point. It has been withdrawn for problems of the RMG sector where the USA does not provide GSP facilities while the sectors from which it has withdrawn have no problems to warrant the withdrawal. Likewise, the World Bank would have very well found ways to accommodate Bangladesh on the Padma bridge loan had the government not upset those who have overriding powers over the WB over Dr. Yunus. The way the government handled Dr. Yunus has not just hampered Bangladesh’s national interests; it has harmed the ruling party’s political fortunes in the country. The latest goofing over the Chinese funding for the Padma Bridge between the Finance Minister and the Communications Minister should remind the ruling party what a mess it has made over one of its major electoral commitments when the time to answer for it is staring at it with the next elections just round the corner.
The above notwithstanding, the importance of Dr. Mohammad Yunus to Bangladesh has not diminished. In fact, it has enhanced for it has now been established that had the government not messed with him, its own fortune and that of the country would have been much better. Looking into the future, a dark cloud of uncertainty seems to be ahead for the country because its politics is going up the wrong path and politicians are becoming more confrontational. At this critical time, the country is yearning for help for if this confrontational politics is not avoided; the country would slide into disaster. It is in this context that Dr. Yunus should consider the FM’s comment about being a politician. It is also in this context that he should consider the bee line of politicians and political parties now coming to his doors. He should also consider that the country today sees in him an answer to their prayers to come into politics and straighten a lot of the imperfections in it.
In reflecting on his future, Dr. Yunus should consider that his future and the country’s are coming to a convergence as it had done once before when the army officers had gone to him to take charge of the last caretaker government. Had he not declined that offer, perhaps the country’s future would have taken a much better course than it has. With another opportunity at his door, he should now seriously consider entering politics to be a sobering and positive influence for politics and politicians. He does not have to join any of the political parties. He does not have to form a political party either. As he has said himself, he has 8.4 million GB subscribers and 20,000 workers who can be his political cadre not for assuming political power but to remind the politicians that there is a third force under his leadership who are unwilling to let politicians mess up the lives of the people for their own interests.
Dr. Yunus should also consider that the large civil society so far leaderless is also yearning for a sense of direction. If he enters politics and decides to give leadership to the civil society, he could give the mainstream political parties a fight so that in future they just cannot do as they please. Our recent experiences have shown that the two mainstream parties – the AL and the BNP- are not going anywhere but that they are capable of doing a lot of harm to the country through failure in governance. A strong unified civil society that we do not have at the moment that he could help build could be a sobering influence upon the political parties to perform and also an insurance against the country going to the hands of the extra constitutional forces, the army.
The country has followed Dr. Yunus’ recent intent to fight his predicament positively and with a lot of hope and expectations. He should not disappoint the country a second time. Politics is a noble preoccupation. He should keep what Aristotle and other great philosophers have said about politics in perspective and use his political instincts to fight for himself, his Grameen Bank and the country in the same spirit he has fought for 8.4 million GB subscribers in the country to bring them out of poverty and given them a future that has made him one of the most talked about and respected individuals worldwide. Dr. Yunus must realize that his only way to fight and save the GB lies in politics and that by entering politics; he can also do the country and its politics a great favour.
At the time of filing this article, there is more bad news for the opponents of Dr. Yunus in Bangladesh. Wall Street Journal has just named him as one of the top influential economists/business thinkers together with Joseph Stiglitz, Bill Gates, Michael Porter, Thomas Friedman, Eric Schmidt, Richard Branson, Malcolm Gladwell, Robert Reich, Jack Welch, Niall Ferguson, Michael Dell, Howard Gardner an Jimmy Wales. Perhaps those opposing and humiliating him will now spare a moment and think whether a man in such h21qcompany can be the same man they are hounding.
The writer is a retired career Ambassador.