The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Poverty easier than politics
- Yunus set to announce withdrawal from new experiment

Dhaka, May 2: Even before he got the Nobel peace prize last year, Muhammad Yunus had been one Bangladeshi the world knew about and admired the most.

Tomorrow, he is expected to tell his countrymen and the world that he has found it harder to dabble in politics than to tackle his country’s gruelling poverty.

The man who made his micro-credit revolution a powerful weapon to fight poverty raised hopes of a new political dawn in Bangladesh by deciding to join politics two months ago. The short time has been enough to convince him that politics — of the Bangladeshi variety — is not quite his cup of tea.

He will announce tomorrow his decision to withdraw from politics, Yunus’s brother, Muhammad Jehangir, told The Telegraph here this morning.

Yunus himself does not want to talk about it before he makes his decision public tomorrow.

The decision will “sadden” many like Debapriya Bhattacharya, executive director of the Centre for Policy Dialogue, Bangladesh’s leading think thank. He has been involved for several years in the civil society’s attempts to usher in political reforms in Bangladesh. He had also been one of the leading non-political personalities here who had persuaded Yunus to join politics.

The Nobel-winning founder of Grameen, the NGO of the micro-finance fame, agreed and floated a party called Nagarik Shakti (Citizens’ Power) about two months ago. Yunus’s decision comes at a crucial time for the fluid political scenario in Bangladesh.

Next week could see new twists and turns in the ongoing drama about the two former Prime Ministers, Begum Khaleda Zia and Sheikh Hasina. Not even Jillur Rahman, acting president of Hasina’s Bangladesh Awami League, knows for certain when exactly she will come back home from a forced overstay in London. But it is generally believed that she will return here sometime next week.

Similarly, Rahman and other Awami League leaders have no idea what she will face when she comes home. They, as well as the people, are waiting to see how the drama unfolds for her and for Khaleda, Hasina’s arch-enemy and chairman of the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP), once the former is back in Dhaka.

The caretaker government has slapped several cases, of corruption and one of murder, on Hasina. Khaleda’s son and heir apparent, Tarique Rahman, has been in jail for nearly a month, also on corruption charges. Until recently, it was believed that she had agreed to go into exile with her family.

Things changed dramatically after Hasina defied a government ban on her return. The army-backed administration quickly went into a retreat and said it would neither force Khaleda to go into exile nor prevent Hasina from coming home.

Khaleda lives in practical confinement in her house at the cantonment here and has not been seen in public for weeks. But BNP general secretary Mannan Bhuina says she will not leave the country until Hasina’s return.

So does that mean an end to the so-called “Minus Two” game plan' The plan, apparently suggested by some in the army, the government and the civil society, was to reorganise politics in Bangladesh “minus the two women leaders”.

Moinul Hosein, law and information adviser to the caretaker government, says some leaders of both the Awami League and the BNP, who wanted an end to “family politics” in their parties, also approved of the plan.

It had been anticipated that both the Awami League and the BNP would disintegrate in the absence of the two leaders. That would have set the stage for new political equations and the rise of new parties.

Nobody wants a “king’s party” but the people are totally disillusioned with the way the two parties have run governments and politics in the past 15 years, Bhattacharya says.

Hence, the search for men like Yunus who could usher in a new political order. Bhattacharya does not think that Yunus’s decision to bow out of his brief encounter with politics is the end of that search. “And that has nothing to do with what happens to the two ladies,” he says.

Hosein, though, sounds more emphatic when he says political reforms must continue, irrespective of the fate of the two former Prime Ministers. “The caretaker government is duty-bound to free the country from the politics of anarchy, corruption and lawlessness.”

Most sections of the people thought that the army and the interim government together had done a wonderful job in beginning to rescue the country from the brink of total disaster, into which Khaleda’s government and her corrupt, criminalised partymen had plunged the country.

But that was until the confusion created by the government’s botched-up plans to prevent Hasina’s return. Most people, though, argue that the government should be given more time to clean up the political system and deal with the big fish among the corrupt politicians, businessmen, bureaucrats and even the judges.

Notwithstanding Hasina’s demand for an early announcement of polls, the people would rather have a late election than a bad one dominated again by money and muscle power.

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