Thursday, February 23, 2012

PM for Yunus as WB Chief :: Is it a change of heart or a mockery?

After terming him the “bloodsucker” of the poor and relentlessly harassing him and forcing his departure from Grameen Bank that he founded and led to Nobel Prize stature, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, on Wednesday, requested the visiting EU delegation to use their “influence” to make Prof Yunus the next president of the World Bank. 

On the occasion she also praised him, according to UNB news agency, for “his outstanding contribution in alleviating poverty through micro credit activities.” The PM is also quoted to have further said that Prof Yunus has vast experience and enjoys an “excellent reputation in the world”. She reportedly holds the view that Prof.

Yunus' vast experience is a “valuable asset” that the World Bank, by making him its next president, can use for the benefit of the world. 

This is for the first time we have heard anything positive from the PM about Yunus since she took power this time. Is Sheikh Hasina's change of heart for real? Or is it a mockery, with the underlying message, 'Take him away from Bangladesh?' We hope it is the former.

Countless numbers of us who have attended conferences abroad or who have done business with foreign companies, have faced relentless questions as to how the Bangladesh government could harass the very man honoured the world over. 

The support that the international community extended to Prof Yunus was seen by our government more as Yunus' capacity to lobby to gather support rather than a sign of genuine respect that he enjoyed. 

The spontaneity of the global outcry was totally lost on our government. It could not imagine, in its wildest dream, that another Bangladeshi, who wielded no political power, could have earned such a genuinely exalted place in the global scene. 

So like a stubborn individual, the more the support for Yunus, the more the government stiffened its attitude and saw it as external interference in our internal affairs. Not for a moment did it ask why heads of states and governments were rooting for this private man who had nothing to show for his power except his reputation for the work he did for the poor, especially women. 

Within the country the government, its leaders and especially the prime minister came under severe criticism for their narrow mindedness. Many termed the prime minister's attitude to be an expression of her jealousy, as some had convinced her that she deserved a Nobel Prize. She appeared to be mean, vindictive, too eager to denigrate people other than her family, and totally blind against people she dislikes for whatever reason and however unjustifiably. To make a long story short, her attack on Prof Yunus greatly diminished her, her party, her government and the country.

Nothing would please us more if Sheikh Hasina really meant what she said to EU delegation. It is never too late to correct a wrong. Yunus' possible presidency of the World Bank is of least interest to us. (It may be mentioned that the office is always held by an American, just as the IMF's stewardship is held by Europeans. On what basis our PM made such a request to the EU is beyond our comprehension). What is far more important for Bangladesh and we as a people is that we stop dishonouring a man who needs and deserves to be respected. We stop telling lies about him and about micro-credit that is being adopted in almost all poor countries of the world, some not too poor and a few rich countries as well. 

As the age old saying goes, charity begins at home. So also respect for Yunus should begin at home, at the PM's home (figuratively speaking) to be precise. 

If Sheikh Hasina believes what she said to the EU delegation about Yunus' work, his experience, his reputation then she must acknowledge that inside the country by giving him the respect he deserves. Given the ego our leaders have, it is too much to ask our PM to retract all that she has said about him in the past, especially after it proved to be all false. She would definitely gain the esteem of her countrymen if she had the maturity and the self confidence to admit that she was mistaken. 

That said, we can ask her to begin anew. She can start by giving Yunus an audience that he has long requested for and removing the misunderstanding that has been exploited by many smaller people surrounding the PM. She can take steps to restore this man's prestige that she has so unfairly, cruelly but at the end ineffectively, tried to take away from him. 

But, on the contrary, if she does not believe what she has said, then she has only made herself an object of ridicule. The world will know that she advised the EU and indirectly the World Bank and all its members to honour the very man she herself does not honour. What it will do for her own credibility and stature, not to speak of respect among her peers, is an open question. But it is one that should be asked by her. 

It is our fervent hope that the PM's words signal a change of heart. We would further like to hope that she will act according to what she has said and try to heal this festering wound that has harmed us all so much, more her than anybody else. However, if her words turn out to have been just that --- words, without any substance or meaning --- then it will stand out as having made a mockery of us all.