Why Mahatma Gandhi is the only leader to feature on currency notes

Written By: Annu Kaushik
Delhi, India Updated: Oct 02, 2018, 05:44 PM(IST)

Currency Notes Photograph:( Reuters )

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Currencies are emblematic of a country’s sovereignty that is often reflected by leaders who have played a significant role in their freedom struggle.

India’s heritage and culture are often reflected in its currency. Several monuments from Konark Sun Temple to ruins of Hampi have adorned our banknotes. But one thing remained unchanged- the image of Mahatma Gandhi, the only person to have been featured on currency notes.
The Reserve Bank of India, which is responsible for regulating the country’s currency, has so far issued three series of bank notes- the  Lion Capital Series (1949), the Mahatma Gandhi Series (1996) and the new Mahatma Gandhi Series (2016).
Currencies are emblematic of a country’s sovereignty that is often reflected by leaders who have played a significant role in their freedom struggle. Pakistan’s currency features its founding father Mohammad Ali Jinnah and China’s features Mao Zedong.
Colonial Indian bank notes had an image of British Emperor George VI and it was imperative to replace it with a symbol of an independent nation. According to the RBI Museum, the first notes were to feature Gandhi. But the final decision went in favour of the Lion Capital at Sarnath - the national emblem of India.
Gandhi eventually featured on the currency notes when the Lion Capital Series was replaced by the Mahatma Gandhi series. It was obvious that Gandhi was the unanimous choice, but there seems to be a limited explanation on why no other public figure featured on the currency notes, later.
The question was posed to former RBI governor Raghuram Rajan. During a lecture in 2014, Rajan was asked why we can’t have scientist Homi J Bhabha or poet Rabindranath Tagore on the rupee notes.

“There are so many great Indians, but of course he (Gandhi), stands head and shoulders above everyone. There are many great Indians that we could get on the notes. But I sense that almost anybody else would be controversial," said Rajan.
Rajan was perhaps right. It’s very difficult to come to a consensus over symbols that could represent a country as diverse as India. In fact, a PIL challenged the validity of the 2000 Rupee notes on the grounds that the numbers were written in Devanagari script instead of international numerals as mandated by the Official Languages Act.
Despite being the body that issues the currency, the RBI has little say over symbols on Rupee notes. The decision is made in consideration with the government. So far, both UPA and NDA governments have favoured Gandhi.
In 2014, Finance Minister Arun Jaitley told the Lok Sabha that an RBI panel had rejected suggestions for replacing Gandhi with any other leader. The reason- "No other personality could better represent the ethos of India than Mahatma Gandhi".
Gandhi’s great-grandson and author Tushar Gandhi somewhat agrees with this justification. “Mahatma Gandhi is not just the most renowned leader in India but also a respected international figure and the government may have felt that his values could be reflected through bank notes,” he said.
Unlike coinage, Indian currency notes aren’t overhauled frequently. The government & RBI may find a suitable candidate for our currency notes but Mahatma Gandhi notes are here to stay for quite some time.

(Disclaimer: The opinions expressed above are the personal views of the author and do not reflect the views of ZMCL)

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