Syed Ashraf Ali
The unusual chill in the winter grew still chillier on hearing the news of the death of iconic central banker, A K Gangopadhaya, a former Deputy Governor of Bangladesh Bank. A K N Ahmed, another legendary central banker who served as Bangladesh Bank Governor in the mid-seventies broke the news over telephone from Washington. In an almost a choked voice he informed that his lifelong friend and colleague had passed away on January 14 at the residence of his son in Texas. His death has drawn a final curtain on his chequered career spanning a period of nearly five decades straddling across countries and continents.
Gangopadhaya joined the State Bank of Pakistan in early fifties via an officers' training programme of the Bank. Two other persons, A K N Ahmed himself and Aminul Haque Choudury, who also served as Bangladesh Bank deputy governor during seventies and eighties, also joined the banking industry through that programme. The trio, reminisces the ex-governor A K N Ahmed, were among the top of the list of successful trainees. They were summoned by the State Bank Governor, Zahid Hossain, to convey his appreciation for their performance and enquired whether they would like to join the State Bank or the National bank of Pakistan. In one voice they opted for the State Bank.
The threesome, along with a few other central bankers, notable among them was M Nurul Matin, were to form the nucleus around which revolved the banking industry in Bangladesh in the crisis ridden days after the birth of Bangladesh. From this distance of time, it is difficult to visualise the enormity of the problems that lay ahead to reconstruct the banking sector, which was in shambles, to build the foreign exchange reserve which had all been taken away by Pakistan, to reshape anew the currency and monetary arrangement and to resuscitate the ailing industry and commerce. They joined hands with the government of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman to address these seemingly insurmountable hurdles to bring back sense in the country's chaotic economy. Their success is epitomised by the fact that by the time the assassins' cruel bullets killed the Father of the Nation the economy had been brought back to the pre-71 level and was poised to take off to reach higher plateau.
The brilliance of Gangopadhaya manifested itself in many ways. He had a rich academic background including a masters degree in economics from the Dhaka University. Impressed by his performance as a young officer in the State Bank of Pakistan, early in his career, he was chosen to work as Secretary to the Credit Enquiry Commission set up by the Pakistan government to channel credits to vulnerable sectors of the economy. Following the recommendation of the commission, the first East Pakistani bank-- Eastern Mercantile Bank (predecessor of Pubali Bank Ltd) was established under the patronage of the State Bank. The commission also laid out a modality for financing agricultural sector and revitalising the cooperative societies.
Gangopadhaya, again early in his career, was sent by the State Bank for a three month training program on Monetary Policy under the aegis of IMF in Washington. His impressive performance not only earned him the top position among the scores of participants from around the world but he was selected as a resource person for the next course. That set the stage for Gangopadhaya to establish a modus vivendi with the IMF in the negotiations with the Fund in later years as a key figure in the Bangladesh's negotiating team especially on issues concerning policies on money, credit and banking.
Gangopadhaya had an uncanny ability to sift through the complex problems, break these into small pieces and work out solutions that elude ordinary mortals. One case in point is Grameen Bank. Many people are now basking in the glory that Grameen has gained worldwide. What, however, has been forgotten is that Gangopadhaya played a stellar role and served as catalyst to bring it into existence. Back in 1976, an almost unknown professor from Chittagong, Dr Yunus had been nurturing an idea of collateral-free loans for the poor and began peddling the idea literally from pillar to post to translate his dream. One after another collateral minded bank bosses had only to ridicule him for what they thought a utopian idea. At this stage Gangopadhaya came to his rescue with money and logistics from Bangladesh Bank and persuaded the banks to close ranks with Yunus to implement a project known as 'Rural Finance Experimental Project'. It set the stage for the birth of Grameen Bank in '84. Unfortunately, I have not seen anyone, including Dr Yunus himself, acknowledging the contribution of Gangopadhaya, except as a footnote.
Gangopadhaya lived a very unostentatious life without any obsession for wealth and fame. His typical dress included a half-sleeve cream colour shirt dangling from his huge height. Once during a South-east Asia, New Zealand and Asia (SEANZA) conference of Central Bank Governors in Dhaka, the Governor of the Indonesian central bank asked him why it is that bankers in Bangladesh are so casual about dress. Gangopadhaya replied, in jest of course, 'we believe in simple living and high thinking'.
Gangopadhaya left Bangladesh Bank sometime in the 1980s to spend the later part of his career with the IMF where he served stints across continents with assignments from the Fund. The conundrum that made him leave the country he held so close to his heart continues to baffle us even to this day. Gangopadhaya has, however, left behind a rich legacy of excellence in profession, unwavering commitment to principles, honesty and, most of all utmost devotion to the responsibilities he was entrusted with. Above all, he blazed a trail that can well serve as a beckon for the bankers, especially central bankers to achieve excellence in their chosen fields.
The writer is a former Executive Director of Bangladesh Bank. email@example.com