January 8th., 2011
M. Serajul Islam
One issue that has been keeping me thinking in recent days is Noble Laureate Amartya Sen’s visits to Bangladesh. We all know what a brilliant economist he is. We also take pride in the fact that he speaks our mother tongue and his early education had been in Dhaka. In fact, we have shown it openly that we consider him very dear to us by inviting him to visit our country almost regularly. He has paid our gratitude back. He has spoken well of Bangladesh in his writings and in his public speeches.
In fact, he has given Bangladesh a lot of credit for doing better than India on human development issues such as education, life expectancy, immunization and maternal mortality. It makes us feel very happy when he says good things about our economic and social development. Dr. Sen’s comments were first made some years ago and repeated many times and quoted by Bangladeshi writers extensively. In an interview in a local TV channel during his recent visit to Dhaka, Dr. Sen has again stated his assessment on Bangladesh.
In New Delhi before coming to Dhaka, Dr. Sen had this to say in a seminar: “The tragedy is that not only China, but even Bangladesh is now doing better on almost every one of these social indicators than India is doing .... Every country Nepal, Bhutan, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh are ahead already.” Dr. Sen’ good comments are thus not limited to Bangladesh alone. He feels the same way about Bhutan, Sri Lanka and Nepal as well.
Dr. Sen’s undoubted worth as an economist notwithstanding, his views about Bangladesh’s progress in human development issues do not attract as much attention these days because these have been repeated too often. These days, Bangladesh’s main concern is with politics that is becoming more and more conflict prone. This is creating apprehensions in the public mind that the good achievements on human development issues would be offset by the difficulties in politics that lie ahead for Bangladesh.
Dr. Amartya Sen’s goodwill for Bangladesh is thus no longer news in this country. In fact his frequent visits to Bangladesh have started to make a few people think whether he is inadvertently stepping into an area that may not be doing his good name any credit. The point was addressed in a TV talk show recently. A Professor of a private university questioned with a great deal of humility and apology to the Noble Laureate as to why he is invited so frequently to national events in Bangladesh.
The Professor thought that the country has a Noble Prize winner of its own who is known around the world in a way no less honoruable than Dr. Sen. He questioned the wisdom of those who thought it wise to keep Dr. Yunus out of the celebrations and bring Dr. Sen in his place. One wonders whether Dr. Sen has not noticed the strange happenings concerning Dr. Yunus when he visits Dhaka these days after our Noble Laureate has been made controversial by the Government. If he has not, then someone should tell him that he has stepped into politics that those in government are playing with Dr. Yunus. In fact, knowing the character and righteousness of Dr. Sen, a lot of his admirers in Bangladesh are concerned that individuals and groups in Bangladesh are using him in playing politics.
The Government’s handling of Dr. Yunus and the way he was sent out of the Grameen Bank (GB) will be one of the unsolved mysteries of our time. A man who has become synonymous with the positive image of Bangladesh abroad; one who has achieved by his work and his personality the friendship of some of the most powerful men and women of our times has received humiliation in his own country in a manner that defies both logic and common sense. We are now seeing the results of the way we have dealt with our Noble Laureate. Doors abroad in the capitals where our future lie are closing or have already closed because we have offended powerful individuals abroad who had requested our government to deal with Dr. Yunus in a manner than does not compromise his respect and reputation.
The government’s points against Dr. Yunus were that the GM was a “blood sucking” organization under his leadership. Additionally, it had accused the Noble Laureate of corruption in the GB while he headed it. It is now over a year that Dr. Yunus has been removed from GB. The Bank is now in control of the Government. In this period, the Government has not lowered the interest rate structure that is still the same as it was when the Noble Laureate was the Managing Director of the Bank.
A committee was set up by the Government after Dr. Yunus had left the Bank to look into the affairs of the Bank. Its report found that other well known micro credit institutions in the country charge higher rates of interests than the GB! The Committee also cleared Dr. Yunus of any wrong doing on the count of financial corruption or irregularities. In fact, these developments in GB and concerning Dr. Yunus have underscored that the Government’s accusations against him had little substance.
As for the Noble Laureate’s standing in the power corridors of the world and in the western countries, his removal from GB and the way it was done has in fact enhanced his stature. He is still being received in countries that he visits at the highest levels and with respect that has not diminished even a bit. Most recently, he has been given a honourary doctorate by the prestigious London School of Economics, the 20th individual to be so honoured in the institution’s long history.
All these bring me back to the frequent visits of Dr. Sen to Bangladesh and the mindset of those who invite him for our national occasions. It has become obvious that he is brought in order to keep out Dr. Yunus from being either the Chief Guest or Guest of Honour at these functions. It is highly unethical thing that those who invite Dr. Sen this way are doing; using one Noble Laureate to dishonor another Noble Laureate. It is now for Dr. Amartya Sen himself to take note of what motivates people these days to invite him to Bangladesh. We who are his admirers only hope that before he comes to Bangladesh for another visit, he would make sure about the real intentions of those who invite him.
The writer is a retired Secretary and a former Ambassador to Japan and Egypt