Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Yunus Place In History Is Secure

The Bangladesh Supreme Court has upheld the High Court's verdict that Professor Yunus's removal from Grameen Bank is legal. So Professor Yunus has been permanently removed as the managing director of his brainchild, Grameen Bank. This is a sad day for Bangladesh. The decision will embolden those who had always opposed Professor Yunus, such as the religious fundamentalists and others opposed to women's empowerment. It will dishearten the shareholders of the bank, the poor women of Bangladesh, who will see their bank deteriorate into an average bank of Bangladesh, rather than remaining a Nobel Prize winning institution it is. The reticent majority of Bangladeshis, who had taken silent pride in Professor Yunus's monumental achievements, many intellectuals among them, will be crestfallen. They will have a hard time comprehending why all the machinery of the country's government was marshaled to bring down Bangladesh's brightest jewel. There is a dichotomy in the way the Bangladeshi government and the rest of the world view Professor Yunus. To the capitalist and socialist world, and everything in between, Professor Yunus, through pioneering microcredit for the poor is a champion of the poor. Since most of the world's population is poor, he is the symbolic benefactor of the majority of the people on earth, and is a hero to them. When Professor Yunus visits Mexico, poor peasants rush to touch him! He transcended his Bangladeshi credentials long ago and has become an iconic figure of the world. The world emulates, celebrates and glorifies him like no other person on earth. To the Bangladeshi government, Muhammad Yunus is just another Bangladeshi operating from a Spartan, non-air-conditioned office in measly Mirpur, pretending to be great! Bangladesh is a poverty-stricken nation facing enormous challenges. Instead of tackling those challenges, it is astonishing how much time and resources the government wasted attempting to bring down the one person who has brought maximum honour to the nation. Professor Muhammad Yunus is being "removed on a technicality." If, after hounding Professor Yunus for over two years, the best the government can come up with is a "technicality," it vividly demonstrates not only how irrational and hollow the government's misguided pursuit has been, but also how scrupulously clean Professor Yunus is. Foreign governments care deeply about Muhammad Yunus, whom they know very well and adore. The writer was surprised at how quickly every section of the civil society in America -- the press, ordinary Americans, prominent Americans and elected representatives -- reacted with universal repugnance at Professor Yunus's "removal." Elected governments gain admiration and legitimacy only when they act within the letter and spirit of the law, not when driven by rancour. Bengalis embody two diametrically opposite character traits. The admirable one is generosity. A visitor to a Bengali household will insult the host if he refuses to eat something. The darker trait is envy, which the first Bengali and Asian to win the Nobel Prize (1913) , Rabindranath Thakur, lamented about. Every Bengali knows this uncontrollable urge to pull someone down who is headed up. This urge unifies some Bengalis like nothing else. The discourse about Professor Yunus has revealed that some Bangladeshis have not been able to exorcise their jealousy demons. Much more pleasure can be derived from praising someone than demonising him. The angels descend on a person being complimented while the devil envelops the person practicing envy. The whole world applauds executives who salute a Nobel Laureate. Perhaps Yunus should have been born in another country that was capable of appreciating his genius. Many in the Bangladesh government do not seem to realise that Muhammad Yunus had flown out of their grasp long time ago. They may imprison his body, but his free spirit belongs to the whole world. Placing hurdles in Professor Yunus's way will only make him soar higher. Unlike neighbouring Myanmar, Bangladesh has not closed its borders to the world. As a democracy, Bangladesh is plugged into the world in every way, and is susceptible to the world's adverse reaction. The civil society, the press and prominent citizens all over the world have reacted adversely to Professor Yunus's removal. Their governments will, too, because in civil societies governments act on public opinion. The government of Bangladesh had garnered the goodwill of the world and America over the last two years for the way it conducted its domestic and foreign policies. By treating Professor Yunus shabbily, in spite of repeated pleas not to do so, they have squandered most of it. It is unwise to characterise US Assistant Secretary of State Robert Blake's comment that mistreatment of Professor Yunus will impact US-Bangladesh relations as his personal opinion. Top US diplomats' enunciation of American foreign policy is never a " personal opinion." Ninety-nine percent of expatriate Bangladeshis in America believe that the government of Bangladesh has abused the nation's only Nobel Laureate. Surprisingly, leave alone resigning, no one in the government has taken any different view over the Yunus controversy. When they embark on or support unjust vendettas, not only nations, but also reputations of individuals responsible become affected internationally. The world is watching and taking notes. If the government was smart, instead of hounding Professor Yunus, it would have appointed the Nobel Laureate Bangladesh's goodwill ambassador to the world and tapped into the enormous goodwill the world has for him. Harassing Professor Yunus will prove counterproductive. The ongoing protests against the current government at home and abroad will only intensify. Detractors of Professor Yunus beware! His concept of social business is also a novel idea. Do not be surprised if somewhere down the line Professor Yunus becomes the only person ever to win the Nobel Prize for Peace twice. Regardless of what the government of Bangladesh does, Professor Muhammad Yunus's place in history as one of the greatest men of the last one hundred years is very secure.