Thursday, February 22, 2007

The New Adventures of Doc Y

Trouble brewed in Gotham City. The evil empress KZdam attacked mercilessly, while her henchman the Clown cleared out the bank vaults. On the other side of town the Hissina spewed venom on all that was good. Everyone ran helter-skelter. Is there no respite from this hell on earth? Will we never return to the days of the good? Is our salvation, our promised land just a dream? Just then across the sky, blazed a light. We looked up and asked, “Is it a social worker? A businessman? A politician?” “No!” came the reply “It’s Doc Y!”

Okay, I am prone to hyperbole. But I needed to match the dramatics that the good Dr. created with his letter to the nation. First of all as a practitioner of the art of Public Relation, I thought this move by him was a pure stroke of genius. Unfortunately it is the only one that I have seen from him in the recent past.

What surprised me the most was that the reaction was not, like I expected it to be, all saying this is the best thing since Mama’s Halim. Regardless of which newspaper you turned to, the balance between the yah-sayers and the nay-sayers was, I would say, a 55:45 split! The biggest argument in the positive side being that “give the man a chance” and on the other, “he can never succeed.”

What was my reply to the open letter? I was torn. Doc Y and I, as those who read my writing know, have a love-hate relationship. Well a relationship, if you take into consideration that I do not think he ever does read my writings. But as I’ve always maintained, he has this immense capability of luring me with his hypnotic spell of doing-good, only to leave me standing all alone at the alter. Be it the Citizen’s Anti Corruption Council or the need to find Clean Candidates. I wonder why I get a sense of déjà vu?

If I want to give him the benefit of the doubt, Dr. Yunus’ latest adventure is a very well meant attempt. He has, if nothing else, an innate understanding of where he sees Bangladesh heading and he has the ability to rally popular support behind that. I believe one of our nation’s biggest problems is the lack of vision of our leaders. Dr. Yunus brings a remedy to that problem.

I also hope his foray into politics will break the myth that there is no place for good honest citizens in nation building or in politics. I wish that I had a taka for every time someone told me that I would not be a successful politician because I did not have the requisite talent in corruption and mastan-giri. I pray the beacon of hope is lit and that many more flock to the arena.

But personal honesty or unremitting charisma cannot be the only criteria for successful politics or for the ability to manage the affairs of a state. A “clean-and-honest” candidate is not the end itself. But rather it is one of the many requirements for a successful statesman. I am sure that just about now I’ll be hit by the argument that Dr Yunus has managed the growth of Grameen Bank and its subsidiaries quite successfully. I would love to get into the debate about what are the parameters to measure success but I think that will derail from my main premise. I do not think Dr. Yunus will be successful in his efforts.

“Why?” you ask. Well for one he has been extremely politically naïve in the last few months (if not longer). He made more than several well-documented blunders. Say by giving President Iajuddin an “A+” when the rest of the nation looked on helplessly. Or the fact that he came up with the desire to go into polls come what may. Or even the fact that he towed the BNP line of constitutional requirement of the polls by a certain time, only to abandon it when the new caretaker government took oath. This coupled with his ill thought out “clean-candidate” speech, makes me question the capability of his advisers. Or for that matter if at all he is taking any advice to start with. And if he is, from whom is it coming?

Some of the events of the last few weeks have bewildered me. For one the fact that Dr. Yunus is so blatantly circumnavigating the current Emergency ordinance prohibiting any political activity. Secondly that he has asked people to form “Preparatory Committees” of 20 people at local level. Now who will be a part of these committees? Of course it would be nice if a common Joe (or in this case Jamal) would sign up. But is this not open to any and sundry to join? How do you identify who is a genuine “Yunuster” and who is an opportunist? I am not even getting into where the funding for such a large-scale mobilisation will come from. But let us not be naïve to think that no money is required to build up a grassroots based organisation. Are we looking at Grameen Foundation, vested interests or even a foreigner like George Soros to give the money?

Well to sum up my case, I believe that Dr. Yunus’ escapade into politics is, while well-intentioned, full of holes big enough to make any political observer squirm in his armchair. I know, I know! The nation is crying out for a change. By my own reporting 53% of the voters have lost faith in both the main political parties. Does it not leave an opportunity for a third force to emerge? Yes it does. But I don’t think Dr Yunus needs to be this force. And even more worryingly I have a feeling he is headed down the Gono Forum route.

Don’t get me wrong. I am not opposed to Dr. Yunus having a role in the government. But I think that he needs to rise above the political divide. We do not need another player in the field. It would not even matter that he is a Pele. What we actually do need is a good referee. Though he dismissed it offhandedly, I thought a better position for him to assume is that of the President of Bangladesh. While he is right that this is currently a mere ceremonial role, I would have thought he has the prudence to see the bigger picture. Not all powers have to be vested. Some come when one earns it through courage, respect, forbearance and integrity. For example Mahatma Gandhi never had a constitutionally mandated role in India. But can we ever overestimate his influence in the events of his times? Or what about the ceremonial Presidents of India? Most of them have left indelible mark on his nation’s conscience. In Thailand the King is a constitutional monarch. But a mere suggestion from him can sway a nation. Could Dr. Yunus not play the role of the Chief Vision Architect of the nation? As the President he can guide our collective actions into the right path. He could act as a political ombudsman to the brawling parties that govern us. He could be mentor to the young and a friend to the poor. He could shower us with hope, faith and aspirations. He could actually be the answer we are looking for instead of the debate we are getting into.

Does it mean that I’ll not vote for Nagorik Shakti, let alone support it? Like I said, I am torn. I just hope that Dr. Yunus has the foresight to surround himself with able people, from whom he can get solid advice. Unlike Grameen Bank, governing the country is a different beast. Despite being owned by “poor women of Bangladesh” the former has always been the autocratic fiefdom of its founder. Now he is potentially the head of an organisation that has 140 million often vocal “shareholders”. Only way he can manage this is through investing in a team. He needs to build consensus while delegating responsibility. The first signs of the longevity of his experimentations with politics will be in the constitution of his core team. For that the nation waits anxiously.

While I think Doc Y will not succeed, I do want him to. More importantly I want Bangladesh to benefit from his dreams. Either each way, I think the sky over Gotham has changed forever.

For further of my writings on Dr Yunus you might want to read:


Tasneem Khalil said...

While you are, I assume, misusing your brilliant team of graphics designers for the caricature [or you designed it yourself] one word describes it best: perfect. That depicts the primary problem of the ongoing ado about Prof. Y: absolute hero worship. Though I differ with some parts of it, I agree to a larger extent with your take on this. Thoughtful :-)

Tanvir Anwar said...

Thanks Farhan Bhai for your comment. Nice to see you back in Blogsphere. We know you have lot of responsibilities to handle, still we want to hear from you more frequently. Cool action figure by the way ;)

Probashi said...

Heroes are needed to inspire people. While I agree, when he starts full time politicing, worshipping will not be helpful. But the kind of noise I am seeing from young people who now wants to get involved and who are inspired -- that would not have been possible by his larger than life image. His idea of targetting the youth and the women is a master stroke in that regard.

Salam Dhaka said...

There seems to be a growing skepticism about him all around. Everyone I talk to says "It's great that he's coming BUT..." and it's always a big BUT ( no pun intended).

His "Yunus Somorthok Gushti" in a time when he's talking about "people Power" was one of the most ill-conceived messaging I have ever seen.

Farhan, maybe he can hire your Ad firm? :-)

Arafat said...

I'll repeat what I said at the Phiriye Ano Bangladesh dinner the other day-- the problem with the 20 person committee premise is that it assumes that you have nothing to do and know 19 other people who also have nothing to do.

I'm going to start updating my blog!