Sunday, September 9, 2012

When will the drama of demonising Yunus end?

Soon after my August 13 article, “Prime Minister’s BBC interview and Grameen Bank” was published, I have been receiving email comments about Professor Yunus — mostly irrelevant to my article. Obviously, these people are driven by the mindset to delegitimise Yunus’s name and fame at home and abroad following the vitriolic demagogueries of their gurus.

Did they succeed? No; not outside their clique. They are now engaged in a witch hunt — investigating Yunus’s tax and salary history. But to their growing frustrations, the more they are trying to disparage Yunus’s, the more praise-worthy attention he draws.

Well, they are politickers they can brush off all scandals and indignities as they did with the 2010 stock market looting; the lingering global scale humiliation surrounding the Padma Bridge funding shenanigans. They brushed off Suranjit Sengupta’s alleged rail gate scandal. They will soon brush off adviser Syed Modasser Ali’s alleged involvement in Sonali Bank’s mega scale money looting — letting him go unscathed the same way they are trying to protect another adviser Mashiur Rahman. How else can anyone claim, “My government does not involve in corruption”(Hasina’s July 27 BBC) . But they will not let up on Yunus whose only fault is his refusal to take his hats off before this government.

The comments I have received from various readers can be substituted with a single email as though they all came from one reader both in contents and diatribes. The email reads (abridged by ignoring capricious statements to economise space):

Whether Dr. Yunus is a “bloodsucker or not” is a different chapter. He is caught at a cross-road of politics since he himself invited with his over ambition and over confidence without taking note of the pulse and music of politics in our contexts. Ask yourself first, why he showed interest in digging and upholding the infamous ‘Minus Two Formula’, which was a direct threat to democratic order and principles. Hasina and Khaleda might not be liked by the people in general. What are the democratic ways to say goodbye to them? Should not Dr Yunus build a political party now to prove his credibility and acceptability to the people in Bangladesh?

Ask those admirers of Dr Yunus why he has not yet visited National Memorial at Savar and Shaheed Minar at the city? There are more than hundred Nobel Peace Laureates, dead or alive, but nobody misused the honour in the manner Dr Yunus did. “The most interesting features of Dr Yunus’ character is that he all the time likes to move with and around the power wielders in international politics. He is neither for Bangladesh nor for the poor. He is rather out and out for the vested purposes of those who are nursing and gearing him from behind.”
Obviously, some of these and many other fudge comments not presented here could not have come from logically cognitive mind. Unfortunately, such shallow thinking and corrosive diatribes are very common among Yunus’s adversaries. Micro-credit in some form has been operating in 60 countries across the globe and that is why he travels a lot and became a global celebrity.

I do not see any conflicts with winning a Nobel Peace Prize and trying to establish a political party. How does that constitute dishonouring “Nobel Peace award”? May be he thought he could serve the poor and the country better by bringing some sanity in politics. What is wrong with that? Is there any evidence of Yunus being the architect or promoter of the much gossiped “minus two formula”. As far as I know, it was a mere chatter of the time (2008) and Yunus was apparently caught in the cross-currents of that nasty and unhealthy atmosphere.

How can anyone argue with people who think Yunus is not for Bangladesh and question his patriotism given that he dedicated his entire professional life for the cause of helping the destitute rural people of Bangladesh? We must believe that no human (except Prophets) are created flawless and Yunus is no exception.

Visiting the Shaheed Minar and the National Memorial as a criterion to judge Yunus’s patriotism was also raised by others like Awami Leaguer Mohammad Hanif. In a recent ATN Bangla talk show, I watched Col (rtd) Jafar Imam Bir, Bkm (former minister under both Ziaur Rahman and HM Ershad) asking for clarification of the issue (by phone call) from the former minister Firoz Rashid – one of the participants of that show.

When I called Jafar Imam and asked what prompted him to raise this issue, he emphatically rejected judging anyone’s patriotism with visitations of these memorials. Many freedom fighters recently asked him for his clarification of this issue and that is what prompted him to raise it with the talk show participants. Jafar Iman further added that he did not mean to undermine Yunu’s patriotism in any way or his image and the contributions he made to the cause of poverty reductions at home and beyond.

It is an irony that Yunus’s well-wishers had to produce pictures of his past visits (Nur Jahan Begum, BG director) to these memorials and flash on television screen. It is now clear that he visited both memorials on his own chosen time but not for public display of his tribute to the martyrs.

Numerous corrupt politicians, civil servants, money launderers, tax evaders, stock market looters, bank loan defaulters, land grabbers, murderers, food adulterers, human rights violators, smugglers, and so on, visit Shaheed Minar, and National Memorial on various occasions – especially on December 16 and February 21 to commemorate the victory day and the language movement day respectively. Are they more patriotic just because they visit these memorials?

Now that the Hasina administration has completed the ousting of Yunus from Grameen Bank affairs by passing the amended Grameen Bank ordinance 2012, should not he be left alone and save the country from further embarrassments? And for GB borrowers, the government initiate the following to vindicate Hasina’s ascribing of Yunus as “blood sucker of the poor”:

Bring down the interest rates on GB loans from 35%, 40% or 45% to well below the commercial bank rates of 21 per cent or less (say 10% or so or even 0.0%). It should be noted that GB’s interest rate was never over 20% and the rates from 35% to 45 % was quoted by Hasina in her July 27 BBC interview.

Write off all outstanding interest payments accrued from loans charged at interest rates higher than 20%. That way GB borrowers will joyously celebrate Yunus’s removal and Hasina will be vindicated for her dispersing remarks,

Better yet would be to write off both outstanding principal and interest accrued to all borrowers and start a new beginning with the new MD. This will be politically the most prudent thing to do before the 2013 national elections – guaranteeing the 8.4 million GB women borrowers’ votes.

Professor Yunus’s detractors have nothing good to say about him except nonsensical platitudes. 

Unquestionably, it will be hard to find another Nobel Peace Laureate who remained as influential and continue climbing the ladder of celebrity status as Yunus has been since winning the Prize in 2006. His name and fame recognitions outside his country are enormous. And that may be his Achilles’ heel – believe it or not.

BY :   Abdullah A Dewan.  (The writer, formerly a Physicist and Nuclear Engineer, is a Senior Fellow at the Policy Research Institute, Dhaka and Professor of Economics at Eastern Michigan University, USA.)