As Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal yesterday again flexed his Hindutva muscles asking the Government to print pictures of Hindu Gods Laxmi and Ganesh, several other parties have thrown their hats into the ring.
Nitish Rane, a BJP leader from Maharashtra stepped into the debate with a picture of Chhatrapati Shivaji on a Rs. 200 note. Congress MP Manish Tiwari on the other asked for B R Ambedkar’s picture on the notes.
Amidst this political hullaballoo, it is interesting to find whether this is the first time such debate on changing the face on the currency have come up or earlier the issue had been debated as well. What does Reserve Bank of India (RBI) say about it? have they ever become ready to change the face?
Here is all you need to know.
The Transition of Indian Currency: From Lion to Gandhi
The RBI that is responsible for regulating the currency of the country till now has come up with three different sorts of notes.
The first phase of currency was known as Lion Capital Series that came out just after the independence in 1949. The symbol of Lion Capital in Sarnath was chosen after long debates and discussions.
In the colonial period the currency of India had the face of King George VI imprinted on it. After the independence, first the idea was to replace it with the symbol of an independent Nation. Gandhi’s image was also considered but in the discussions, the National Emblem of Lion got an edge and was finalised.
The second phase was Mahatma Gandhi Series of 1996 and the third was new Mahatma Gandhi series of 2016. In both the cases Mahatma Gandhi was chosen unanimously.
Explaining the reason for taking Mahatma Gandhi as the face of the currency, Raghuram Rajan, the former RBI Governor in 2014 said, “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.”
In the same year, former union finance minister Arun Jaitley also informed the house that the RBI panel had rejected to replace Gandhi’s face with anybody else. They cited the reason- “No other personality could better represent the ethos of India than Mahatma Gandhi.”
However, one can’t say that there had always been unanimity.
Proposal to Replace Gandhi with Tagore and Kalam
A few months back reports came that RBI was considering to replace Gandhi’s face with Noble Laureate Rabindranath Tagore and former President of India APJ Abdul Kalam’s faces. However, this proposal hasn’t yet seen the light of the day.
Interestingly, it was in 2017 while producing the new currencies after demonetisation, this idea came to RBI panel. An internal committee was reportedly formed to check the security features of the new currency notes. In 2020, the committee submitted its report saying that apart from Gandhi the faces of Tagore and Kalam could also be considered as the new watermarks except for the Rs. 2000 note that RBI stopped producing.
In 2021, subsequently RBI issued orders to Mysore-based Bharatiya Reserve Bank Note Mudran Pvt Ltd and the SPMCIL’s Security Paper Mill at Hoshangabad for designing the new notes. The newly designed notes were sent to IIT-Delhi Emeritus Professor Dilip T Shahani for his expert comments. Shahani according to the reports asked for the ‘finer aspects’ of the notes.
However, the RBI panel recently clarified that they don’t have any plan to replace the face of Gandhi. In a statement in June it said, “It may be noted that there is no such proposal in the Reserve Bank.”
Battles in Court for Replacing Gandhi with Netaji
A city resident Prithiwsh Dasgupta in 2017 filed a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) to Kolkata HC asking for the replacement of Gandhi with Subhas Chandra Bose.
In his PIL he noted, “Though Mahatma Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru have garnered much of the credit for successful culmination of the Indian freedom struggle, the contribution of Netaji is no less.” However, it was not fruitful.
Recently, Kolkata HC dismissed another PIL by 98 year old freedom-fighter Haren Bagchi Biswas who claimed the same. Dismissing the petition, the bench of Justice Prakash Shrivastava and Justice Rajarshi Bharadwaj noted that earlier such petitions came to Madras High Court and subsequently RBI formed an internal committee in 2010 to look into the matters.
However, upon investigating and examining all the aspects, RBI came to a decision that Mahatma Gandhi can be the best representation of the ethos of India.
The bench said, “On the advice of the Government of India, a Committee was constituted by the Reserve Bank of India in October 2010 for designing future currency notes and the Committee deliberated on the issue of changing the existing image of Mahatma Gandhi and inclusion of certain other personalities in the new design of Banknotes. However, the Committee decided that no other personality could better represent the ethos of India than Mahatma Gandhi and therefore, no other personality image was decided to be included in the currency note.”
The Kolkata HC also added that if everybody starts claiming such a claim “there will be no end”.
In this context, one can easily say the claims of Kejriwal to other parties are nothing more than political rhetoric to woo and polarise the voters ahead of state assembly polls.