How many roads must a man walk down before you call him a man?" asks Bob Dylan in the opening line of his famous song "Blowing in the Wind." The song asks many more "hows" as it goes along, but by the time it gets to the last "how" you think of our finance minister before you know. The words transform in your subconscious mind and turn into a chant verging on rant: How many times must a man say sorry before you call him a joke?
It doesn't surprise anybody that our minister has been wrong again. It doesn't surprise anybody either that he has said sorry again. This time he upped the ante by misquoting one Nobel laureate against another, and then quickly retracting his statement. But not before he blamed the media for putting those words in his mouth that he never said. The media has stuck to its guns, claiming it has recorded proof that what has been reported is what has been said.
The minister somehow forgets that odds are against him. He has been wrong so many times that nobody believes he can be right again. Only a few weeks ago he questioned the maturity level of Bangladesh Bank. Before that he said 40 billion taka swindled from Sonali Bank was nothing. Much earlier he had said that the defrauded small investors in the stock market were greedy. In between he discharged fireworks of interjectory words like "nonsense" and "bogus," dismissing any question critical of him. Most recently he has fired another of his clichés against Bapex. He called it "stupid."
Something happens to everybody when he or she is wrong. Italian author Carlo Collodi writes in The Adventures of Pinocchio that Pinocchio is punished for each lie that he tells by undergoing further growth of his nose. Presidents and prime ministers are impeached for their lies and, if not, they lose face or re-election.
Politicians lie all the time, which often extricates them from their embarrassments or make things more complicated for them. Senior George Bush told voters: "Read my lips, no new taxes." The Americans didn't forgive him for telling that lie and rejected his second term.
After Bill Clinton was asked about smoking pot as a student, he replied he never inhaled the smoke. Most Americans didn't buy that story but they let him off the hook, because it wasn't of any vital importance to them. The Monica Lewinsky scandal almost pushed him over the edge, but his ultimate confession helped him avoid a long-drawn impeachment battle.
Our finance minister doesn't quite tell a lie. What he says is intermediate between truth and falsehood. He is inaccurate and judgmental, quick to apologise for his mistakes as he is to repeat them. The sight of the minister at a press conference these days invokes the anxiety akin to what the world must suffer at the thought of terrorists having nuclear weapons. The minister is unpredictable and eclectic, his mouth frightening us every time it opens in public.
Many times he is inconsequential, that weakens truth, if not wipe it out. He shows little grasp of facts, insensitive with his quickdraw reactions, and discursive within his limited vocabulary that works around his choice of three particular English words mentioned above. He is irascible, evasive and inconsistent, always entertaining but seldom convincing. The minister thinks this entire country is his living room.
A party colleague has recently scolded him for his garrulity. He has asked the minister to listen more and talk less, because that is supposed to be the sign of true leadership. But old habit dies hard, and it's too late to ask a leopard to change its spots.
God save this country, such a spotty man has been at the helm of its economy for last four years. The complete disarray in the financial sector and flurries of scams that have shocked this nation speak eloquently of his frivolous behaviour. FBCCI president has lately lamented that the finance minister does nothing to solve the mushrooming problems but he smiles all the time. Perhaps his smile is the root cause of those problems, which compound into more smiling, just like a spider gets stuck in its own sticky web.
Someday the Guinness Book of Records will track down our finance minister for a title that's anybody's guess. Meanwhile, I want to tell him abut a Californian named Larry Smarr, who measured everything he put in his mouth. He wanted to control his weight.
The minister needs the opposite. He should measure everything that goes out of his mouth, because he is dangerously losing weight. It's a classic case of the Barber Paradox, when an apparently plausible scenario is logically impossible. Sorry means nothing if one doesn't stop being wrong.
The writer is Editor, First News and an opinion writer for The Daily Star.