There may be numerous ways to honor a Nobel laureate, but if one wants to know how to malign an internationally recognized social scientist, even though he is the one and only Nobel prize winner of the nation, come to Bangladesh. The Bangla government at Dhaka has perhaps created a kind of records in insulting a legendary economist turned banker turned social thinker Professor Muhammad Yunus on various occasions.
The recent one has been reported from the capital city of the populous country, where Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina Wazed claimed on 16 January 2016 that a former managing director of a bank (read Prof Yunus who created celebrated Grameen Bank of Bangladesh) had provoked high officials of the US government in Washington to threat her to stop financing of Padma multipurpose bridge project over his removal. Addressing a prestigious award (in memory of Kazi Mahbub Ullah) function at Shilpakala Academy in Dhaka, Ms Hasina commented, “Some high officials from the USA told me that funding (of Padma bridge) would be stopped if a particular person is not there in the post (of Grameen Bank).”
The veteran politician, who leads Awami League party, without mentioning Prof Yunus’s name in the reference asserted that he influenced the World Bank management to cancel the financial support to Padma bridge project due to the conflict with her government. “Even I was directly threatened,” claimed Ms Hasina. She also added the particular person (Prof Yunus) went to the court and the court gave the verdict. He violated the law of that bank and remained as the managing director for extra 10 years. If anyone failed to win in the court that is not our responsibility….Could the construction of Padma bridge be stopped for that? PM Hasina pondered.
It may be mentioned that Prof Yunus was compelled to resign as the managing director of Grameen Bank in March 2011 on the ground that the ‘banker to the poor’ had crossed the official age limit (60 years).
Though Prof Yunus approached the apex court of the country against Bangladesh Bank, the highest banking authority of the south Asian nation, he lost the case. “There was huge pressure on my government to reinstate him (Prof Yunus) as the managing director. But I did not bow down,” asserted the third time Prime Minister, who is the daughter of Bangladesh’s founding father Sheikh Mujibur Rahman.
Though it was an oblique reference to Prof Yunus by PM Hasina, the Yunus Centre immediately hit back to the Prime Minister alleging that she was carrying out a smear campaign against Nobel laureate. The centre, which functions as Prof Yunus’s secretariat, stated in a press communiqué, “We are saddened and frustrated by the baseless remarks made by the Honorable Prime Minister.” It is out of the question that Prof Yunus encouraged World Bank to cancel the loan for the bridge over river Padma, added the statement.
“Prof Yunus has dedicated his whole life to build various institutions for the welfare of the people of Bangladesh and would never do anything against the interest of the people of Bangladesh. Such unfair and unfounded smear campaign to discredit one of the most respected and celebrated Bangladeshis and his work is unfortunate,” asserted the Yunus Centre. Regretted that same allegations keep on resurfacing, even though Prof Yunus had already given elaborate clarification on the matter long back, the centre dedicated for promoting and disseminating the Nobel laureate’s philosophy, also added, “It is shocking that Honorable PM keeps repeating the allegation without ever presenting any proof in support of her allegation.”
Arguing that the Padma bridge is a dream project for the people of Bangladesh (so thus Prof Yunus) and hence he would never stand in the way of realizing that dream. The centre also cautioned that PM Hasina’s unfounded comments might have serious global implication over the country as a whole and Prof Yunus in particular. Mentionable is that Bangladesh government inked a contract with the World Bank for financing the US $1.2 billion Padma bridge in 2010. However the international lending agency backed out from the Bangladesh’s biggest ever infrastructure project in 2012 citing the reason of unusual high-level corruption. Under stress, the Hasina government later took the initiative to complete the 6.1 km river-bridge with financial supports from Asian Development Bank, Japan International Cooperation Agency and Islamic Development Bank.
Prof Yunus, who initiated a lending exercise in 1976 at some villages of Chittagong locality and later it inspired him to launch Grameen Bank of Bangladesh in 1983, received the global recognition for his micro-lending initiative as he and his bank were jointly honored with Nobel Peace Prize in 2006. The Grameen Bank is recognized as the only bank in the world which is owned by the loan receiving women of Bangladesh. Their share is around 97%, where as the rest share of ownership is with the government. The bank that provides small loans to poor Bangladeshi nationals, who are mostly ladies, without any collateral is today emerged as a brand name across the globe.
Many socio-political analysts of Bangladesh argue that the elevated fame of the unique bank annoyed Ms Hasina as she was often introduced in public space as the Premier of the land of Muhammad Yunus.
Moreover, PM Hasina herself was expecting the Nobel award for her successful initiative in ending the decade long tribal insurgency in south-eastern Bangladesh. She maintained her suspicion that Prof Yunus received the award because of the Clinton family’s lobby to the Nobel committee.
Days back, the Prime Minister made the same allegation in Jatiya Sansad (National Parliament of Bangladesh), while responding to a Parliamentarian’s query, that ‘some domestic evil forces’ (implying Prof Yunus) were running negative propaganda against the poverty stricken country. She also added that ‘there were unprecedented efforts to attach the stigma of corruption to her government’, where she and her family were put as the prime target. Even later in a cabinet meeting, PM Hasina commented that Prof Yunus was conspiring against her government. The local media reported the Premier’s comment which tempted the Yunus Centre to issue a formal statement protesting against her remark that Prof Yunus was waiting for Hillary Clinton to become the next US President to create more troubles to her government.
The centre also added, “The theory (Prof Yunus is plotting to bring down the government of Bangladesh when she becomes the US President) is stretching the imagination to the limit….Implicating a front-running Presidential contender of a friendly country with such a serious accusation does not promise our country a good start with new President if she is elected.”
It is known to everyone who tracks Prof Yunus’s spirited mission to make the world poverty-free within our lifetime that he is close to Bill Clinton’s family. Even the US presidential hopeful Ms Clinton, who visited Dhaka as the US Secretary of State, publicly asked PM Hasina to resolve the conflict with Prof Yunus amicably. But even then one would expect, because of the proximity only, Prof Yunus should not be blamed as a conspirator to a national project engaging the graceful American lady.
Nava Thakuria is a journalist based in Northeast India. Views expressed are personal.
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