Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Dr. Muhammad Yunus and his political journey


EXCEPT a very few sceptics none will disagree that no other person has been adorned with so many awards and honorary degrees than Dr. Muhammad Yunus, the teacher-turned-banker. Undoubtedly, Dr. Yunus has become a blue-eyed boy of the corporate world for his excellent performance and innovations in the field of investment and marketing of finance capital and technology among the poor through micro credit. But how a Nobel Laureate looks when he/she is turned into a politician?

In a recent interview at Zia International Airport, Dhaka, Bangladesh, Mr. Yunus expressed his keen desire to enter into politics. And many of his well wishers would like to see him in the ring right now. He does have a vast network in rural Bangladesh that has been set up by Grameen Bank. Dr. Yunus undoubtedly has a rapport with foreign leaders. He has a very good reach with the Non Resident Bangladeshis who don’t have the right to cast vote to chose law makers of Bangladesh. Then how many voters in Bangladesh know him closely if they need to select him or his party in the elections?

The level of popularity of a politician tends to be very volatile, making it difficult to sustain the same level of support for any length of time and the outcome of any election more difficult to predict than before. People must have noticed in recent months the ups and downs of the popularity of major politicians in Bangladesh.

Before entering into politics, Dr. Muhammad Yunus and all of his well wishers should have to keep in mind several questions. Can he reach to the rural people as a politician? Will General Bangladeshi be happy to see him as a politician? What do the urban elites think of him? Will he able to overcome volatile political practices in Bangladesh? Does he think he can be a model as a politician too? What will be the impact if he will fail to do well as a politician?

In a relatively young democracy with a highly polarized political system, general people in Bangladesh don’t aware the electoral and democratic processes of the country.
According to the Bangladesh Economic Review 2005, Ministry of Finance, the present literacy rate of Bangladesh is 62.66%. Very few of them are aware to select the right person for the state. There are a lot of things exist which pollute the politics in Bangladesh.

Religion exerted a powerful influence on politics, and the Government was sensitive to the Islamic consciousness of its political allies and the majority of its citizens. The ups and downs in the use of religion, religious identities and religious symbolism in the politics of Bangladesh over the last twenty-five years raises so many questions on the way of true democracy.

NGOs (Non Government Organizations) at the grass roots level have emerged as a modernizing influence in the rural areas and have often come into head on collision with the ‘traditional’ spheres such as madrassas (Islamic religious schools). Ironically madrassas and village Imams have been considered likely catalysts for development in the rural areas.

One of the prime bones of contention between the NGO activity and Islamist parties in the rural areas have been the subject of increasing visibility of women in the public sphere. NGOs in Bangladesh have been particularly successful in bringing out women into income earning and educational programmes. Village power structures using Islam as a way of social control have attacked this phenomenon as being un-Islamic and undesirable for a country like Bangladesh.

The use of muscle power is also not new in elections. Muscle power is crucial in determining the outcome of voting. Muscle power can drive away the campaign workers from the field. There are stories where active workers were threatened out of their constituency and could return home only after the election. Is it possible for Dr. Yunus if he needs to use muscle power in the political combat?

Corruption is endemic in Bangladesh and greed seems to be limitless. Public service in this social environment has become a victim of deal-making. In politics the power of money has assumed an unprecedented level of importance. First and foremost, money is required to build and maintain the muscle power.

Political parties in Bangladesh now have students' wings, labour wings, ladies wings, and youth wings and so on and so forth. Even professional associations are aligned to political parties; for example, medical practitioners have separate associations aligned to major political parties. Most parties have their storm-troopers to extend party influence and enforce party discipline. Within parties powerful leaders have their own strong-arm supporters to maintain their individual position in the party. Mr. Yunus may needs these wings when he will enter into the politics.

If a nationwide objective, efficient and comprehensive survey is conducted, the actual picture would be revealed. This would mean going to a large number of rural voters to how far corruption, prices of essentials and the power crisis is a factor to them. In general corruption is a huge matter, but if that was so, how could Ershad be a success in Rangpur even after he fell in face of a mass uprising?

Awami League chief Sheikh Hasina herself was defeated from a constituency in Rangpur, which happened to contain her husband's hometown. She lost that constituency due to the popularity of last dictator president of Bangladesh General H.M Ershad

However, to do well in politics having Nobel Prize and getting Nobel Prize for being a good politician may not be same, especially in Bangladesh.

Imran Khan, an unbelievably talented all rounder who’s name has been mentioned several times in Guinness World Record as one of the best all rounder (person who can bat as well as ball) in the history of cricket, has entered of politics in Pakistan and has set up his own party Tehrik-a-Insaf (Campaign for Justice). Although Imran Khan himself is the chairman, the party is still struggling in the politics and in the two elections it participated in, it could get none seat in the first and won a single seat in the next election that seat was of Imran himself. Besides Imran Khan, the political journey of other politicians in Asia is not smooth.

Kim Dae Jung, son of a poor farmer in south-western Korea and the former president of Republic of Korea, was nearly killed in a government- engineered "accident." Entering politics in 1954, Mr. Kim was re-elected in the three subsequent elections of 1963, 1967, and 1971 in the South Korean National Assembly. Because he had risen to prominence spearheading the unsuccessful 1969 parliamentary effort to prevent a third term for President Park Chung Hee (Pak Chong-hui), he was chosen as the New Democratic Party's presidential candidate against President Park. Despite harassment and government election controls, Kim received 43.6 percent of the vote, shocking the Park government.

Facing house arrest, jail and kidnapping by the Korean government, President Kim was elected president of the Republic of Korea in December 1997 and inaugurated in February 1998 and devoted himself to the task of economic recovery and managed to pull the country back from the brink of bankruptcy. For his work for democracy and human rights in South Korea and in East Asia in general, and for peace and reconciliation with North Korea in particular, Kim Dae Jung became Nobel laureate for peace in 2000.

We can hardly forget the iron lady of Myanmar. Aung San Suu Kyi, the Nobel Peace Prize winner in 1991 held under house arrest in Myanmar for pro-democracy movement. The 61-year-old political prisoner still continues to denounce oppression and human rights violations and encourages peaceful protest across the country.

As every case is different, Dr. Muhammad Yunus might not be proved failure in the field of politics. But people naturally don’t react positively if some one becomes second from first. And those politicians became first from second.

In Bangladesh, Grameen banks have side-stepped the local power structure and provided a mechanism for the poor to take responsibility for their own socio-economic development. Since a Grameen Bank is part of a village life in Bangladesh, the villagers and their children do not starve anymore: their houses keep out of the monsoon: the women have more than one sari and some undergarments. But is it enough to turn them to cast vote in favour of Dr. Yunus?
Everyone in Bangladesh feels terrorism, bureaucracy and corruption are the major obstacles against clean politics. If that are so, then how does a corrupted person become an MP again and again? How radical fundamental groups become ministers? How a dictator can change the shape of democracy? There is a big gap between a thought good politician and a real politician in Bangladesh. People of Bangladesh are more likely to see Dr. Muhammad Yunus as a political institute but not as a politician. #

Ripan Kumar Biswas is a freelance writer based in New York