Arindam Chaudhuri
[November, 2006]

While year after year, strange economists keep getting the Nobel Prize for Economics for equally strange and meaningless impractical formulas, the man who has been redefining traditional economics and taking it back to where it should belong – the people, especially the poor – has been denied the same and given the Nobel for Peace instead. Though it is irritating, yet, perhaps we could try to find a deeper meaning and rejoice. At a point of time when Muslims are being looked at with suspicion, it sends a clear message to the world – that if you want to have peace, you’ve got to remove the massive poverty that still exists in the world by empowering the poor, especially women... I don’t think there can be a better message for global peace at a point where perhaps the biggest clash of civilizations – that between the Muslims and the Christians – is erupting across the globe.

The erstwhile Professor of Chittagong University is a great example of a man who does believe in walking the talk... To him, the best theories of economics are meaningless if they can’t be practically applied; and that which can remove poverty and give people dignity of existence, is the best economics. He has shown to the world that the poor are creditworthy by having a near-99% repayment record in his Grameen Bank, which alone today diburses more than Rs.3000 crores of loan every year, and has more than two-thirds of its funds as self-generated. His bank reaches more than 66,000 villages in Bangladesh and has till date touched the lives of more than 6 million poor, especially women, through its micro-credit or small loan schemes, given at a realistic interest rate of 20%. The most humble, soft spoken, Nobel Prize winner has shown to the world that poor need no mercy, and keeping the poor as the central focus of economic activities not only is a must to have a humane and ethical society, but also makes sound business sense.

Muhammad Yunus’ Nobel Prize reminds me about Dr.Manmohan Singh’s speech at Cambridge that I read with amusement just a few days back. In his speech, while he was being honoured there, our Prime Minister – who is rarely seen speaking or doing anything boldly inside the country – reminded us of something that is being forgotten at a very fast pace within India, that once he was also an intellectual and that he is himself a competent and learned economist. Making Indians proud for a change, he boldly told the developed countries that their prosperity depended on the well-being of the less developed world. He said that they should not “allow short-term national interests to prevail at the cost of promoting freer trade and combating poverty.” He further stated, “The prosperity of so many cannot be sacrificed for protecting the interests of so few. The price of myopia is heavy on the exchequers of the developed world.”

Great words indeed, but the momentary pride of having a well educated Professor of Economics as our Prime Minister ended in no time as a creepy feeling overcame me that it must be mere lip service to get the applause at Cambridge. His deeds indeed have very less similarity with his words. His budgets have hardly reflected true passion and commitment for the poor, and the very next page of the same newspaper had the news of suicides in Vidarbha, which has crossed the 350 mark since the PM visited the place in July this year, and over 962 in the past year... As I write this, my blood boils in pain, restlessness and anger at the insensitivity of our Prime Minister and Indian politicians en masse. They have all the time to get their salaries revised in Parliament, walk out over trivial issues, shamelessly ask the government to pardon terrorists, but they have no time for hundreds dying in the farms of Vidarbha because those poor and helpless have no voice and make no meaningful vote-bank. While Dr.Singh talks about the poor at Cambridge, he allows hundreds to commit suicides due to severe drought in his own country and – though he easily could – he takes no immediate conclusive action to stop the unending pain and agony of these poor and helpless. As a result of his and his predecessor’s policies, today, India is ranked below sub-Saharan African countries in the world malnutrition index at a pathetic 117 out of 119 countries, and the mainstream media, full of conspirators with the high and mighty, smugly ignores this news and places it within insignificant pages to ensure low visibility, because writing about the poor and malnutrition is not sexy enough to grab eyeballs.

It’s time our politicians went back to learn some more economics from Muhammad Yunus. Economics which teaches true passion for the poor, sensitivity and the commitment to walk the talk. And thanks to the Nobel Committee for recognising efforts to make the world poverty-free. At least for a few days, the media won’t find writing about the poor non-sexy. I only wish Dr.Singh too would find working with true commitment for the poor equally attractive.
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