March 06, 2011

Protests Against Removal of Nobel Laureate Dr. Muhammad Yunus From Grameen Bank

It all started with Tom Heinemann’s documentary “Caught in Micro Debt” which was aired on the 30th of November, 2010 on the Norwegian state Television. This had set off a chain of events which triggered much controversy on microcredit and Bangladeshi Nobel Laureate Dr. Muhammad Yunus and resulted in the investigation of operations of Grameen Bank, which he founded.

Image courtesy World Economic Forum. CC BY-SA

In a latest development of this saga, the central bank ordered the removal of Yunus (70) on the grounds that he had overstayed as head of Grameen operations violating the law (the retirement age in commercial bank is 60). Dr. Yunus is challenging this in court and thousands of supporters protested across the country against his removal. This has made the headlines of many media.

The fingers are pointing towards the government as the earlier reaction of Bangladesh's Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina was a bit too harsh - as she mentioned "in the name of poverty alleviation he (Yunus) is sucking blood from the poor".

Ireen Sultana at BDNews24 Blog explains:

একজন সরকার প্রধানের মুখ থেকে এ ধরনের বক্তব্য সুষ্পষ্টভবাবে সরকারি অবস্থান এবং মনোভাবকে নির্দেশ করে। আর তাই যতই বলা হোক না কেন গ্রামীণ ব্যাংকের ব্যবস্থাপনা পরিচালক পদ থেকে ডঃ ইউনূসকে অব্যাহতি প্রদানের লিখিত নির্দেশ এসেছে বাংলাদেশ ব্যাংক থেকে, দেশি-বিদেশি প্রতিক্রিয়া ব্যক্তকারিরা এটাকে সরকারি সিদ্ধান্ত বলে মনে করছেন।

Statements like this coming from the head of the state clearly states the position and intention of the government. Although others may say that the direction to to remove Dr. Yunus from the post of Managing Director of Grameen Bank came from Bangladesh Bank (Central Bank), those who are reacting on this are presuming that this is the decision of the government.

The popular belief is that Yunus is being seen as a political counterpart because of his failed attempt to join politics in 2007. Ireen Sultana asks:

একজন অ-রাজনৈতিক ব্যক্তিত্ব কি করে একটি রাজনৈতিক দলের প্রতিপক্ষ হয়ে উঠতে পারেন?

How can be a non-political person be a political counterpart of a political party?

Philanthrocapitalism blog comments in a post titled "leave Yunus alone":

As Grameen points out, it is owned by its 8 million or so borrowers, most of them relatively poor women. It remains to be seen if the voice of these owners will be heard. There is a real danger that what is in effect an attempted takeover by the Bangladesh government will do serious damage to Grameen and the people it helps. While there are certainly examples of for-profit microlenders harming the poor, we think the greater harm to the poor is often done by the politicians who purport to be on their side.

Clearly the country has been divided on this issue. The opposition has been quick to back Yunus saying that he has been victim of vengeance. Netizens are also divided. Bloggers like Ichcha Manab thinks that this sudden decision to remove Yunus from the board is a disrespect to the Nobel Laureate and is a dent to the country's image. Columnist Shamsher Chowdhury at The Financial Express says:

The lone Nobel laureate of Bangladesh should have been dealt with a little more dignity and respect. The entire saga clearly smells of jealousy, anger, vengeance and vendetta on the part of those who orchestrated the campaign against Prof Yunus. People at large are confused and would like to have a complete picture of what charges or irregularities Yunus is guilty of.

On the other hand Shafiur at Imperfect|World says:

For decades his zillions of fawning supporters have twisted the truth and failed to see the limited creature that microcredit is. I hope today that grin has been wiped off his face. For sure he is fighting back and he has powerful friends both at home and abroad. But this is a day to savour.

Some like Mahbub Morshed cannot understand what the fuss is all about as they think that Yunus's credibility and achievements will not be lost if he is no longer the MD of Grameen operations.

Himu writes:

তিনি যদি এতই বিচক্ষণ আর বিবেচক হবেন, কেন এই প্রতিষ্ঠানটিকে স্বাভাবিক প্রশাসনিক প্রক্রিয়ায় যোগ্য কোনো পরিচালনা পর্ষদের কাছে হস্তান্তর করলেন না?

If he is so considerate and knowledgeable, why he did not transfer his responsibilities to a legal and efficient board of directors?

Alamgir concludes his post at Sachalayatan with this:

দারিদ্র্যকে জাদুঘরে পাঠাতে চেয়েছিলেন ড. ইউনূস। সেটা হবার নয়। তবে দরিদ্র মানুষের ভাগ্যের কিছুটা পরিবর্তন নিশ্চয়ই করতে পেরেছেন; কতটুকু পেরেছেন সেটা ভবিষ্যৎ বিচার করবে। সরকার আইনের দোহাই দিয়ে একজন বুড়ো মানুষকে বিদায় দিচ্ছে। যে মন্ত্রী সেটা করছেন তিনি আরো বুড়ো কিন্তু মন্ত্রী হবার জন্য বয়স, শিক্ষা, যোগ্যতা কোন বিষয় নয়। প্রধানমন্ত্রীও তাঁর পূর্বপ্রতিশ্রুত অবসর গ্রহণের বয়স পার করেছেন। দেখা যাক কী হয়।

শেষ বিচারটা সবসময় জনগণই করবে। ড. ইউনূসের জন্য অনেক অনেক শুভ কামনা রইল।

Dr. Yunus wanted to send poverty to museum. But it is not to be. At least he could contribute to changing the fate of the poors in a limited way; to what extent he has achieved this, only time will tell. The government is sending an aged man home citing regulations. The minister who executed this order is a lot older than Yunus. But for Ministers age, education, capability does not matter. The Prime Minister also has already crossed the legal age limit for retirement. Lets see what happens.

The citizens will judge at last. Our best wishes to Dr. Yunus.


  1. I think it’s clear from the way the ruling party has gone about this that it’s PERSONAL, and that’s true of other people who are involved in this witch hunt against Yunus. The whole episode smacks of mean-mindedness. When the Attorney General comes out after the court verdict to say Hasina should have won Nobel prize, the whole thing becomes obvious.

    This LA Times report hit the nail on the head!,0,4915269,full.story

  2. Persons are less important here than country, nation, institutions and particularly institutions of values. The basic question that we should ask ourselves is that has Bangladesh been governed on the principle of 'Rule of Law'? And, has the 'Rule of Law' been equal and equitable to all of its citizens?

    Has Dr. Yunus or the Grameen Bank or many of Dr. Yunus' enterprises been an addition and embellishment to Bangladesh's fabric and mosaic, or have they eroded our ethos, essence and credentials? On the same scale, we should post the poser has the Awami League and its leaders, including Sheikh Hasina- the current Prime Minister, have been a boon or a bane to Bangladesh?

    We haven't forgotten the facts of history of the Awami League/BAKSAL. We haven't forgotten the "Bottomless Basket", Famine of 1974, the plundering of the SOES in the name of 'Nationalization' (a perpetual liability to the National Exchequer), "Jalao-Porao", "Aborodh", Share Market scams of 1997 and 2011 under the Awami League, the 'Pillkhana Trgaedy" under the Awami League in 1972, the so-called "BDR Mutiny" under the Awami League in 2008,- all these destructive to the State and the Nation! Dr. Yunus has not done any such thing.

    Let us weigh them in the balance, and be rational enough to conclude what is right and what is wrong. If Dr. Yunus has to be prosecuted under the law, the same law should apply to those who have destryoed the economic and legal fundamentals of the State, including having compromised its Sovereignty with alien and external powers.

    Fiat justitia.

  3. Tom Heinemann should be treated with caution.  A previous Heinemann targeted the Fairtrade movement and Fairtrade tea.  He appears to be coming from a contrarian position with an anti-globalisation agenda.  The contrarians focus in particular on challenging the reputation of what you might call "ameliorationists" - people who work to change the lives of the poor without seeking to overthrow the structure of global capitalism.