Hasina: stop pursuing Yunus

As Bangladesh celebrates the ICC World Cup and all of us rejoice in its newfound status as an international sporting venue, there remainissues of concern.
One is the way Sheik Hasina Wajed’s Awami League government has gone after the Nobel Prize winner Mohammad Yunus, iconic leader of the vast micro-credit movement that has pulled millions of Bangladeshis out of poverty.
The reasons attributed to the campaign against Dr. Yunus are varied: they cover the spectrum (foul word that!) of sloppy book keeping, to harbouring political ambitions and even conniving and collaborating with Sheik Hasina’s arch enemy, the Bangladesh Nationalist Party of Begum Khaleda Zia.  There is also her feeling that he was too close to the military-led interim regime which ruled the country for two years before the elections of 2008 which swept her back to power.Like all politicians, Sheik Hasina is looking at the next elections which are, in a political leader’s perspective, never far away, always round the corner, when anything might happen. She’s concerned about the growing clout of the Opposition and how that may play out in the next months and years. Her pro-India stance has not won her many brownie points at home because New Delhi, as usual, hasn’t delivered and despite the joy and Bangla pride at co-hosting the World Cup with India and Sri Lanka, there is cause for concern that this could affect her long-term hold on power.
Bangladeshi has defanged much of the insurgency movements of the North-east by handing over the virtual leadership of the United Liberation Front of Asom, the National Democratic Front of Bodoland and the Tripura groups to India a d shutting down the anti-India machinery in her country.
However, so far, she hasn’t got much to show for it in return despite the one billion dollar line of credit.  That is something that Prime Minister Manmohan Singh will have to address when he goes there this summer.For a start, apart from any grand gestures, Dr. Singh needs to sharespecific time-bound initiatives that could include direct flights between Dhaka-Shylet-Guwahati and Silchar, connecting to a wider world; incentives for Assam tea to be exported to Bangladesh; extensive road connectivity from the north-east through Bangladesh to Kolkata; incentives for trade and investments from Bangladesh in the NER, especially in food and bamboo processing and mineral resources as well as an area of Bangladeshi expertise: river training and navigation. And he could assure Dhaka that the Tipaimukh Dam in Manipur will not be built, instead of letting it remain in a nebulous zone.
If he doesn’t or can’t, then there is every chance that Bangladesh could again turn into a safe haven for extremists of all hues including the radical Islamic variety and the likes of our North-eastern militants who have some ready watering holes in the Directorate General of Field Intelligence (DGFI) which is closely aligned to the Pakistani ISI.
Going after Dr. Yunus is no way heops Sheik Hasina’s ‘democratic’ causes. I think that the reason for the anti-Yunus campaign is far more personal and tinted by the lens of jealousy: at the heart of all such politics are personal concerns and issues.  For more than any other figure, barring Sheik Mujubur Rahman, the Bangabandhu and founder both of the Awami League and Bangladesh – and Sheik Hasina’s father – Yunus is the global face of Bangladesh.  Kazi Nazrul Islam, one could argue, would be close behind. Few politicians, serving in office or in the opposition, can stand that.The head of Grameen, who favours cotton churidars and kurtas with some silk thrown in, is celebrated internationally not just for his micro-credit campaign but for innovation and enterprise that has spawned many outreach programmes for the poor– from the Grameen phone, the country’s first independent, cheap mobile network, to health care and education.
The other day, Dr. Yunus recounted the story of how the Bangladeshi Prime Minister was being feted at a reception during a visit to a European capital. “You are from the land of Mohammad Yunus,” the head of the reception committee beamed. The Prime Minister’s smile froze and her demeanor turned icy.
Well-wishers are trying to develop reconciliation.  I hope it happens because the current division only weakens Bangladesh and hits the poor and vulnerable — and hurts among the few true heroes of South Asia.

By Sanjoy Hazarika / North by North-east

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