It’s the pits, Kejriwal: Gods on currency notes

A. J. Philip A. J. Philip
31 Oct 2022
Japan and China became the economic engines of Asia, not because they printed gods’ pictures on currency notes but because they removed illiteracy from the two countries.

Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal is a genius. Nobody knew how to bolster the Indian rupee vis-a-vis the US dollar. Narendra Modi ridiculed the then Prime Minister Manmohan Singh for the declining value of the rupee. He promised that the rupee would be brought up to be on a par with the US dollar.

Today, one has to give Rs 83 to buy $1. At the rate at which the rupee has been falling, one will have to shell out Rs 100 to buy one dollar in the near future. It is against this backdrop that Kejriwal has come up with a brilliant suggestion to prop up the rupee, rejuvenate the economy and, thereby, become the world’s economic powerhouse.

He is a practical person. As a Revenue official, he was accused of submitting fake documents, but got a clean certificate of honesty to enable him to join Anna Hazare’s campaign for Lok Pal that virtually ended the Congress supremacy in the country.

What Kejriwal suggested is easy to implement. He wants the pictures of Ganesh and Lakshmi on the currency notes. He believes in co-existence. So, he does not mind keeping Gandhi along with the deities on the currency notes. In the wake of the Punjab elections, he removed the picture of Gandhi from his office room. In its place was put the picture of Bhagat Singh.

Bhagat Singh was an atheist, who cut his hair and beard. Yet, the Bhagat Singh depicted in the picture in Kejriwal’s room has a yellowish turban. There were two others who were hanged by the British for their involvement in the Lahore conspiracy case. They were Rajguru and Sukhdev. Alas, the two martyrs were ignored! To ignore them was politically expedient.

Someone asked him why Gandhi’s picture was removed. He said he had no objection to anyone keeping any photo, be it of Gandhi or Ambedkar. Perhaps, even Godse! He is such a democratic person, though one has to ask his ex-colleagues like Prashant Bhushan and Yogendra Yadav about his democratic credentials. 

To return to the rupee, his magic formula is something which never occurred to the rulers anywhere. For millennia Hindu kings, the Mughals and the British ruled India. After Independence, too, persons of different political persuasion from Nehru to Morarji Desai to AB Vajpayee to Narendra Modi ruled the country. None of them had this idea of printing pictures of gods and goddesses on currency notes.

Even abroad also, neither Pagans nor Christians and Muslims ever thought of using the currency value of gods. To be fair to Kejriwal, he has given one concrete example of using a god’s picture on a currency note. For this, he went to Indonesia.

As we all know, it is the single largest Muslim country in the world. It has more Muslims than Pakistan and Saudi Arabia. Yet, they did not mind printing the picture of Ganesh, the God of Prosperity, on their Rupiah 20,000 currency note. If a Muslim country can do this, why can’t a soon-to-be-Hindu nation use such religious icons on currency notes? Kejriwal seems to ask this question.

The poor former Indian Revenue official does not know that printing Ganesh’s picture has not bolstered the Rupiah. For instance, an Indian Rupee is equivalent to IDR 188. In other words, an Indian can buy an Indonesian currency note valued at IDR 20,000 that has Ganesh’s picture for as little as Rs 106.

If any of my readers has a relative who has a few dollars to spare, you can ask him or her to buy the IDR 20,000 Ganesh note. Believe me, it will cost him or her less than $1.5. That is the kind of strength Kejriwal wants to give the Indian Rupee by printing pictures of gods on currency notes.

When the report appeared, the first thought that came to my mind was why he did not include Saraswati, the Goddess of Learning, in the list of gods and goddesses whose pictures should be printed on currency notes. Kejriwal is one person who makes boastful claims about the educational reforms he introduced in Delhi. I would like to discuss his claims vis-a-vis the reality in another column.

The reason is apparent. While Ganesh is the God of Prosperity, Lakshmi is the Goddess of Wealth. He knows that wealth and education do not co-exist.

Those familiar with the story of Krishna and Kuchela, also called Sudama, know this truth. Both were great friends and classmates. After education, Krishna became a social worker. Kuchela became a Vedic scholar. He could barely meet the needs of the family. Finally, his wife forced Kuchela to approach Krishna, who bestowed him with wealth. As the story goes, Kuchela could not reconcile himself to his sudden prosperity and died as a result.

Nearer to us, in the Eighth century, Adi Sankara had a philosophical argument with Mandan Mishra of Mahishi in Bihar. Mishra was a great scholar but as his wife told Sankara, he was so poor that he had only one piece of cloth to cover his nakedness. This may be the reason why he does not want the picture of Saraswati on the currency note.

Interestingly, Kejriwal mentioned the Ganesh picture on the Indonesian currency note. He did not mention what is printed on the other side of the same IDR 20,000. Actually, it depicts a classroom. Indonesians know the value of education and they also know the value of history.

Indonesia is an Islamic nation but it is not shy of admitting its hoary past when it had connections with a South Indian Hindu empire. That is why Hindu iconography finds a place in currency notes and the national emblem. They don’t rewrite history. Nor do they change the Hindu names of places and streets like we change all Muslim names.

Nor do the Indonesians portray Hindus as invaders, who came to loot Indonesia as we often say about the Mughals and the British. My first encounter with Indonesia was when I read SK Pottekkatt’s classic travelogue entitled Balidweep, where he felt that he was indeed in another Kerala. 

No attempt is being made to obliterate the Hindu cultural influences on the Indonesians. That does not make them lesser Muslims except in the eyes of the Islamic puritans who do not want their womenfolk to acquire education and be their partners in progress. Japan and China became the economic engines of Asia, not because they printed gods’ pictures on currency notes but because they removed illiteracy from the two countries.

Kejriwal forgot one fundamental difference between the Indians and the Indonesians. Let me cite one recent example. A butcher in Uttar Pradesh was recently attacked by some people. Fortunately, he was not killed. No one charged him with slaughtering a cow in which case he would have been killed. He was selling goat’s meat! So, why was he attacked?

While selling meat, he wrapped it in an old newspaper sheet that contained an advertisement that depicted the picture of a Hindu God. For the Indonesians, Ganesh is a cultural icon, not a religious icon. Islam prohibits all religious icons. Devout Hindus would not like depiction of gods on currency notes for they wouldn't like persons like the butcher to touch them.

As my friend and senior journalist Shastri Ramachandran asked in a Facebook post, how could Hindus keep currency notes that have Lakshmi or Ganesh in a leather wallet or allow them to be touched by the buttocks. When Yogi Adityanath became chief minister, the first thing he did was to remove all the leather upholstery from his office and home. 

The lady who happens to be the Union finance minister started using a cloth bag, instead of a leather bag, to carry the Budget papers to Parliament. How can she allow disrespect to Gods and Goddesses if they are part of currency notes? Ask any banker and he will tell you that currency notes are the most ill-treated objects in the country.

There are people who argue that iron can be cut only with iron. They justify Kejriwal’s conduct on these lines. They do not realise that he has disproved the theory that his Aam Aadmi Party is the B team of the BJP. Now, if anyone considers it the A+ team of the BJP, he cannot be mistaken.

He has been giving enough evidence. In the last elections, the minorities of Delhi voted en masse for him and his candidates. He credited his victory to the blessings of Hanuman and exhorted his party men to recite Hanuman Chalisa. He created a large replica of the Ayodhya temple in Delhi so that he, his ministers and MLAs could go there and worship Maryada Purushothama.

The makeshift temple that cost lakhs of rupees was dismantled a day after the prayers. Which ruler will commit such a folly? He has taken several groups of people from Delhi to Ayodhya by hiring trains at state cost. One promise he has made to the electorate in Gujarat is that he would organise free trips to Ayodhya for the poor and the elderly.

Kejriwal does not know that Gujaratis are one of the richest and they do not need the government’s help to do pilgrimage. For his knowledge, pilgrimage is not pilgrimage if it does not involve hardship and one’s own money. The poor need food, not pilgrimage!

Kejriwal is one chief minister who does not have much powers. Neither land nor law and order is under him. He is actually a glorified Mayor,  of course, not like the Mayor of New York, Rudolph Giuliani, who showed his power in the wake of 9/11. He has been rightfully demanding full statehood for Delhi. I was with him on this.

But the moment Home Minister Amit Shah withdrew statehood from Jammu and Kashmir and vivisected the state into two Union Territories, Kejriwal was the first to welcome the move. It did not bother him that it was tantamount to cutting the branch of the tree on which he was sitting. So much for his commitment to democratic principles and good governance!

Even some BJP leaders had difficulty in reconciling themselves to the vivisection when the party had never promised it in any of its election manifestos. All it demanded was abrogation of Article 370 that gave J&K some special powers which were watered over the decades by successive governments at the Centre. But that did not prevent the Delhi CM from welcoming Shah’s ill-advised move.

Similarly, when thousands of people, not necessarily Muslims, protested against the new citizenship policy that bars Muslims, at Shaheen Bagh (2019-2020), Kejriwal preferred to ignore it. What mattered to him were votes, not principles.

Similarly, when riots broke out in Northeast Delhi in which Muslims suffered the most with Hindus suffering only collateral damage, Kejriwal as Chief Minister should have gone to the riot-hit areas to control the situation. Instead, he preferred to go to Rajghat to “pray”. Gandhi did not go to a temple when riots hit Noakhali, now in Bangladesh. He went to the area and dealt with the people there.

Soon after Independence when Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru heard that some Hindus were attacking Muslim refugees in Delhi, he rushed to the spot and raised his walking stick to control the situation. No, he did not go to a temple to pray.

As a Christian, I do not believe that there is a bad time for prayer, but prayer is not, and has never been meant to be, a substitute for constructive action. Let me narrate a chilling scene in the 1971 film  “Nicholas and Alexandra” in which Czar Nicholas II is facing the international crisis of July 1914 that led to World War I and doesn’t know what to do. 

He tells his former prime minister, Sergei Witte, “I’ve ordered prayers for peace to be said in every church in Russia”. To that Witte responds, “We can pray when we bury the dead”. Yes, Kejriwal Ji, prayer is not a substitute for action. How good it would have been if he had gone to Northeast Delhi and used his moral courage to face the hooligans who took the law into their own hands. Alas, courage has become a rare commodity in India today.

ajphilip@gmail.com

Arvind Kejriwal Gods on currency notes Narendra Modi US dollar Bhagat Singh Christians Muslims Indian Rupee Indonesia Aam Aadmi Party BJP minorities North East Delhi Riots Issue 45 2022 Indian Currents Online news

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