In a recent article in the Eid magazine of the daily Prothom Alo, titled 1/11, written by Mr Mohiuddin Ahmad, it was mentioned in the interviews with General Moin U Ahmed, and Brigadier Bari that I did not agree to the proposal of the army to become the head of the caretaker government because it would last only for two years, not long enough to generate my interest in the proposal. They implied that because of my refusal to accept the top position within a two-year framework they had to look for someone else.
The reason given for my not accepting the army’s offer is totally fictitious. A non-political civilian has to be very naive to ask the army to give assurance to keep him as head of the government for more than two years, or even for six months.
Let me narrate the events that took place with me prior to the formation of the Fakhruddin-led caretaker government.
This is how the day of 10 January 2007 went for me. I got a phone call from the army chief at my office at around 5:30pm. I was in my office talking to two of my senior colleagues. My phone rang. It was the army chief. We did not know each other. He introduced himself and went straight to the subject. He said, the army has decided to put up a new caretaker government to run the country to save the country from chaos. And they have decided to put me as the head of the caretaker government. He invited me to get ready to proceed with the formalities. I thanked him for his kind proposal but I immediately added that they had better look for someone else because I did not wish to accept the proposal. It was clear that he was not ready for this reply. Perhaps he was expecting an enthusiastic positive response. He repeated his proposition, thinking that I may not have understood what he proposed. I again repeated my negative response and suggested that he can move on to their next choice for the position. He said they didn’t have any second choice; the whole plan was worked out with me as the head of the government. I apologised for disappointing them but made clear that I have no intention to be the head of the caretaker government. He perhaps realised that this is not going to be easy to change my mind. He said he’ll ask his colleagues to talk to me in details so that they can clarify everything to me. I told him that I would be happy to talk to his colleagues but this would not change my mind.
The conversation ended there. It took me a few minutes to realise that this had been a real conversation, the person on the other side of the phone was the army chief and he was offering me to become the head of the government! After I recovered from the suddenness of the event I took time to report to my colleagues who were still sitting in front of me and listening to the conversation from my side of the phone. I gave them the details of the other half of the conversation. They were stunned. They could not believe that I have just given a negative answer to an offer which might be grabbed by anyone any time. I told them that I am absolutely sure that I have done the right thing. They were puzzled and unhappy.
A few minutes later I get another call at my office. Major General Masud wanted to come and see me at my house. Since I had no way to say ‘no’, I agreed and suggested 8:00pm as the time for his visit.
General Masud along with Brigadier Amin and half a dozen jawans arrived at my apartment located within the Grameen Bank complex. I welcomed them and took to a small room. They introduced themselves. They were absolutely polite and explained what was their mission. The more I repeated my negative response the more polite and insistent they became. In order to convince me they gave details of their plan. I raised many questions to understand how they wished to proceed, without giving any impression that I was willing to reconsider my reply. I was hoping that once they realised that I am not going to change my mind, they would leave. They showed no sign of leaving. They said their mission was to help me understand the gravity of the situation and agree to help them by accepting their offer. They shared with me all their concerns and their plans to address them. I kept saying that I see their points very clearly but they have to proceed without me.
They presented their offer as an excellent opportunity for me to do whatever I was trying to accomplish for poor people from outside the government. Once I agreed I could do all these things with the tremendous power of the government.
I kept repeating that I fully understood that. They kept pressing me to explain why I was so stubbornly opposed to taking the national leadership role. I told them that they don’t have to wait for me to agree because there were many capable and committed people in the country who might be very happy to work with them. They asked for names. I gave names of some of my friends and people that I was familiar with. My close friend Dr Fakhruddin Ahmed was one of the names that I mentioned.
They stayed for three hours trying to get me to change my mind. Finally they decided to leave with a final message: “We will come back in the morning. Please consider all the aspects we discussed very carefully and discuss with your colleagues and friends. We hope we will get a good news from you in the morning.” I told them I would definitely take this very seriously, but they should not waste their time coming back again, because my response would be the same in the morning, they had better use their time in finding the next candidate.
They thanked me and left very unhappy, because their mission did not end with any success.
On 11 January I went to office as usual. I was happy that they did not call me back in the morning. Around 10am my colleagues told me excitedly that they have just heard the news that my friend Dr Fakhruddin Ahmed would be sworn in as the head of the new caretaker government. I felt relieved.
It was mentioned in Mr. Mohiuddin Ahmad’s article that I attended the oath-taking ceremony of the new caretaker government. That is not correct. I was neither expecting an invitation nor was I actually invited to the ceremony. I was happy about the news because that signalled the end to the intensive pressure that I had to go through.
* Muhammad Yunus is the founder of Grameen Bank and winner Nobel Peace Prize 2006