May 03, 2007

Fear and Loathing at Nagorik Shokti - or why I supported Yunus and now am terribly disappointed

(Funny update below)

And so it ends not with a whimper, but a bang. Eliot's poetry holds no metaphor that can capture the enormous amount of pessimism with which I regard the immediate short-run in Bangladesh. Yes, you heard me right: the author of the Wasteland has failed to match my mood.

I woke up this morning to find that Yunus has decided not to float his party after all. It's a true testament to the times that I got the news first off Drishtipat, then off the Daily Star. Because with the press restrictions in place, the media has become increasingly worthless as a source of REAL news.

Full disclosure: I am not related to him, nor have I ever been an employee or intern at Grameen organizations. I have met him once. I got a photo and an autograph out of it, neither of which I really wanted at the time but was pushed into by my parents. And no, my parents are not the Dhaka "secular humanist", "ekatturer chetona"-types. In fact, they are highly skeptical of this whole "NGO-thing" as they call it.

No I came to respect Yunus later on, in college, in a land far, far away from the humidly green Delta. And then too, only for his creativity. That a man at the height of the "Cold War" ("an ethnocentric term" - Naveed Sheikh) could rise above the two petty ideologies - which had needlessly polarized Bangladesh as well as the rest of the world where the war was anything but "Cold" - and do something different for the "Third World" came as a nice little surprise. That he was from Bangladesh filled my heart with joy. The only thing that could have been more perfect was if he had been from my beloved Dhaka, but alas....

So when he announced his political ambitions, I hoped again that he would be able to overcome the AL-BNP political polarizations and the whole secular-Islam social polarization: both needless, both meaningless, both absolutely artificial. After all, this was the man who had overcome that other spectacular piece of binary thinking - market vs. central planning. After all, he was neither KZ or SH, not even loosely related. After all, he had declared proudly that he had gone and prayed after winning the Nobel Prize. I didn't think he would make all this change immediately, but in the long-term through example.

I remained skeptical of his short-term goals, especially as any news of his policies were not forthcoming. I remained skeptical too of his conflict of interest with being both in government and still regarded as being part of "civil society". You are either one or the other, no exceptions. Yet, one remained optimistic.

I heard criticisms of him. Most were irrelevant to say the least. Let me just reproduce some major strands of argument:

1)Don't come into politics. It's not for clean people. And oh yes, we need reform.: I don't think refuting this is worth my time or effort.

2)He's a market-centric bastard in the pocket of MNCs: Yes. He is market-centric. And he does deal with MNCs. Fortunately, unlike most of us, he became a master of the market system and an almost-equal partner of MNCs, instead of remaining their snivelling or frightful slave like the rest of us. This one came mostly from ex-communists and the odd conformist-non-conformists who did not like all the hype surrounding Yunus.

3)Grameen doesn't really work. Yunus is a sham: SH is nothing like Mujib (indisputably the Greatest son/daughter of this Soil in known history) and KZ or TR is nothing like president Zia. The day you call them "shams" to their face, I'll believe you're not a partisan hack.

3)Just because he made a poverty-reduction scheme work doesn't mean that he knows how to run government: Oh yeah? Then what ensures that you know how to run government? Degrees from American colleges with no practical experience? Practical experience in siphoning off cash to INVEST in other countries (no degree required)? Being someone's widow or daughter or son or grandson? Being convicted of running ethnic-cleansing hit-squads in '71? Being an accountant, a lawyer who has found more loopholes in the constitution than he has fixed, a general who wrote poetry and made a mockery of his own religion and country? This list is seriously endless. So why are people so ready to dismiss him without giving him a chance when we've given every third-rate BCL/BCD "cadre"-leader a try without asking for his resume? Or is that an uncomfortable question?

Then there was 1/11. Rumour flew that he had been approached to become Chief Advisor. Rumour also had it that he turned it down. Well, good job I said. Who wants to be a figurehead anyway? I mean, look at Fakru! And Iajuddin before that. (And on the topic of Iajuddin, has a scholar ever harmed his country more?)

And now of course he's decided to call it quits. People suspect the AL's rhethoric but that's probably giving the AL too much credit at this point. More likely (and this is PURE SPECULATION), he did not want to get involved in the only party that will probably have power over the next five years: a sort of hegemonic party like the NDP in Egypt, the Baath in Syria or the JP under Ershad. Our way or the highway seems to be the rule from hereonin. He chose the highway.

Yet... yet... if had stood up to the powers that be at this point, formed his party and called for elections, he would have been the hero of the people. He decided to take the quiet route, Lord knows under what sort of pressure. Another high, followed by yet another low. Goodbye Nagorik Shokti and hello Vegas. My friend, I missed you.

Update: Best reaction to this news comes from shadakalo's blog: "OK, its official. Worldwide poverty alleviation is easier than leading Bangladesh." Even at the worst of times, our sense of humour has rescued us.


Fugstar said...

eyje bhai, kendona.

I didnt have the hope you had and was worried that people i loved would have politics make fools of them through NS.

For me its fields of Education and research where i see the sociospiritual baraka.

cop out?

Asif said...

Cop out? FAR from it. Until education and research changes, becomes relevant and is given their proper respect and funding, there will be no fundamental change in society. That's my belief. Education is the catalyst for change.