|Ershad holding Yunus’s brief: Why so late?
Thursday, 24 February 2011
By Harun Ur Rashid
Ershad certainly deserves encomium for volunteering to defend Nobel Laureate Dr Mohammad Yunus against the all-too-obvious spite spewed against him by his grand alliance partners ever since the Norwegian TV aired some nasty comments about his Grameen Bank. Addressing a meeting of his party workers Ershad said, "Dr Yunus earned honour and glory for the country, which nobody else could'. And as an exceptional piece of self-criticism he reminded his country men, ‘We are humiliating ourselves by humiliating Prof Yunus'.
Surprising though, but I am glad the former general-turned-President of the country has beaten his fear of being interned in the red-building and has come out into the open in praise of Yunus, though he is not unaware of the mind of the chief of his grand alliance. He has gone further, perhaps dangerously far enough, in criticizing the ruling party in failing to control commodity prices and maintain law and order. In a grim note of warning he uttered if the government fails to put things in order this will be a boomerang for the grand alliance in the next general election.
This is part of his politics, and we would like to ignore his warning to his own choice of political alliance. What makes us curious about his comments on Dr Yunus is whether this too is part of his politics. Knowing as we do that politicians never say anything without an ulterior motive, we would like to ask why he has taken the floor so late in the day. There were occasions when the prime minister of the country quite firmly and perhaps too loudly talked of forming an inquiry committee against the irregularities in his Grameen Bank. There were claims by the finance minister that he had resigned as the MD of Grameen Bank and Dr Yunus politely denied that. And there was also some scam reported about his family's packaging industry. Ershad kept silent on all those occasions. Anyway, it is all too gratifying that he has spoken at last for a person in whose Nobel Prize he thinks he has a share! How can he forget he passed the Grameen Bank ordinance overriding the objections of Bangladesh Bank?
It is not unknown that Ershad, like Yunus, has friends all over the world; powerful friends who can change the course of events in a country like ours. Has he been briefed by some of his American friends to come to the defence of Dr Yunus? Political analysts tend to believe that his delayed defense of the Nobel Laureate cannot be explained in any other way than his American connections. Observers further guess that the American government is not happy with some of the government actions that have been undertaken to the detriment of American interest and policies. Well, we as Bangladeshis would feel proud of our government if those actions go to serve our national interest. But we would also like our rulers to beware of the global reach of the American agencies laying out American strategic interest. And in this case, happily depending on the Indians as our immediate neighbour would be wrong just as Nehru was wrong about his Chinese friendship. Even India would not do anything against her own interests to come to the aid of Bangladesh in case of trouble. We have not forgotten it was the Indian High Commissioner, Samar Sen, who went to Bangabhavan to greet President Mustaque immediately after he was sworn in! And there was no resentful reaction from the Indian government on the assassination of Bangabandhu. Why? There are no permanent friends in politics, it is the political and economic interests that determine and define ‘friendships'.
Dr Yunus does not need an Ershad to defend him. He is himself capable of defending himself as he is doing like a perfect law-abiding citizen. And he has gone deep into the hearts of his country men. Drenched in the love of his people, he will live there for eternity.
Dr Yunus is a person of exceptional acumen. He devoted his life-time in developing a concept to alleviate the suffering of the poor. I would call him great even without his Nobel Prize. There were other economists, perhaps more talented than him, in this country. But no one thought of going to the poor of a village and making them aware that they could change their own lot by their own initiative. He inspired them, gave them money from his monthly salary and won their hearts. It was a mission that quickly spread throughout the country. The support he got from Ershad for his unique bank gave him the support he needed, but even he did not get that he would have gone on to achieve his goal.
Today he is a celebrity throughout the world. He has got highest civil awards of many countries including the US. There are people around the world who do not know Bangladesh or may not even heard of Bangladesh, but they know Yunus and his micro-credit. Bangladeshis have reasons to feel proud of him. He has brought glory for us and has given us all a share of this glory. His misfortune is that he was born in a country where people in death row get presidential pardon, people with huge graft scam get their cases withdrawn by the government, people with huge tax-evasion cases go scot free and billions of dollars in corruption cases remain outside the purview of law.
Yunus has nothing to regret or even feel sorry about. He was born in Bangladesh but today he belongs to the world's living heritage.
The writer, a professor of English, is Associate Editor of The Independent and can be reached at: