Published: Friday, September 20, 2013

Let sanity prevail

As part of its non-stop campaign against Nobel Laureate Dr. Muhammad Yunus that began three years ago, the government, in its latest move, has decided to take “legal actions” against Dr. Yunus for the alleged crime of tax dodging. Although the NBR did not find any evidence of tax evasion by Dr. Yunus, he is still deemed guilty in the eyes of the government.
The latest charge against Dr. Yunus is that between 2004 and 2011, while still being the head of the Grameen Bank, he accepted prizes and honoraria from foreign sources without Bangladesh government’s prior permission. Despite the fact that Dr. Yunus has always declared all his foreign earnings and regularly submitted tax returns, suddenly the cabinet, in its infinite wisdom, realised that Dr. Yunus committed a grave crime by accepting those honoraria as he was a government employee by dint of his position in the Grameen Bank. The Hon’ble finance minister went one step further and blamed the government for not acting against Dr. Yunus earlier.
Based on this logic, Dr. Yunus should not have accepted the Nobel Prize without Bangladesh government’s approval. Should we follow this flawed reasoning, the next move of the government should be to ask Dr. Yunus to return his Nobel Prize, US Presidential Medal of Freedom, and all other awards that he has received from foreign sources.
The hollow claims of the government that Dr. Yunus, as the managing director of a statutory institution, was a government employee are not credible. Grameen Bank was created as a unique NGO and it is still viewed as such by the vast majority people of Bangladesh and the world. The government may twist the truth, amend the law or distort its interpretation, appoint its yes-men to the Board of Grameen Bank, and harass Dr. Yunus as much as it wants, but it cannot convince any impartial observer that Grameen Bank was a government entity and Dr. Yunus was a government employee.
Have our government leaders lost their common sense? Isn’t there any sensible person around the prime minister who can tell her that enough is enough?  Doesn’t the prime minister realise that through her government’s absolutely inexplicable actions against Dr. Yunus, she is turning her government into a laughing stock of the world? Is the government so imprudent that it can’t comprehend what irreparable harm it is causing to the goodwill toward the country by going after a world renowned person like Dr. Yunus?
We must not forget that until recently people all over the world used to associate Bangladesh with poverty, hunger, child mortality, flood, and cyclone. Difficult though it is to accept, the truth is there was not much that we could be proud of as a nation until Dr. Yunus won the Nobel Prize. It was Dr. Yunus who earned for the nation genuine admiration of the global community and who placed the country on a higher pedestal. We must not forget that Bangladesh was always at the receiving end of not just aid and assistance, but also of ideas. Thanks to Dr. Yunus that, for the first time in its history, Bangladesh could export an idea to the world — the idea of the micro loan.
Bangladesh may not have recognised the talent of its illustrious son, but the world took note of Dr. Yunus’ contribution and gratefully recognised him for what he did for humankind. It is hard to fathom why this recognition of Dr. Yunus is causing such unease among members of our government. Are they envious of Dr. Yunus because he is more well-known internationally than any other Bangladeshi? Are they afraid that Dr. Yunus might again consider floating a new political party? Why this grudge against the only Nobel Laureate that we have?
The first Nobel Laureate of our subcontinent, Rabindranath Tagore, established the Shanti Niketan as per then existing British Indian law. Did that make Shanti Niketan a government institution or Tagore a government servant? To my knowledge, there was a retirement age in India for teachers since the early period of British Raj. Was Tagore ever asked to step down from his position in Shanti Niketan because he surpassed the retirement age? The answers to these questions is ‘no.’ Many examples of Nobel Laureates running an institution till the time of their death can be found all over the world. We must accept the fact that when someone wins a Nobel Prize, that person becomes a global citizen. Governments of countries that have produced Nobel Laureates feel immensely proud of them and try to support them in all possible ways — they don’t go after them with such attitude.
If the government really believes that it can destroy Dr. Yunus’ image by bringing one baseless charge after another against him, then it really is living in a fool’s paradise. By waging its relentless war against Dr. Yunus, the only damage the government is causing is the damage to its own credibility. The sycophants may make the prime minister feel good for her government’s actions against Dr. Yunus, but history would never forgive the current government for its position against Dr. Yunus. Let us hope that common sense shall prevail and the government would stop harassing Dr. Yunus. What the government is doing to Dr. Yunus is ethically wrong, morally bankrupt, politically self-defeating, and simply untenable in the long run.

The writer, an expatriate Bangladeshi, is a Professor of Business in a US University.