Gandhi Jayanti thoughts: Time for Ambedkar-series currency notes?

No better day than 2 October to share a few thoughts about Babasaheb Ambedkar, the economist, and currency notes, a place where Mahatma Gandhi has been smiling away for many years now.

Ever since the RBI said in 2012 that it was considering embossing photos of other eminent Indian personalities on currency notes, clamour for imprinting Ambedkar's photo has been growing.

On September 24, a roundtable was held in New Delhi to once again raise the demand, reportedThe Hindu.

The date is significant as it was on 24 September that Gandhiji and Ambedkar arrived at a compromise formula on the contentious issue of separate electorates for the Dalits. Gandhiji had started an indefinite fast in the Yerwada Jail, Pune, against this on the basis that this would disintegrate the Hindu community.

The demand for printing notes with Ambedkar images comes at a time when atrocities against the Dalits are on the rise in the country as if in reaction to their increasing self awareness and assertion.

Bearing the brunt of the anti-Dalit fury are also statues of Amebdkar.

"But if we print Ambedkar's face on Rs 1,000 note, then nobody will tear it. Like this, we can maintain our dignity," says Dalit Pandiyan, National Convenor of the Dalit Liberation Movement, in The Hindu report.

 Gandhi Jayanti thoughts: Time for Ambedkar-series currency notes?

Babasaheb Amedkar. Picture courtesy: Wikimedia Commons

However, this is not the only reason for getting Ambedkar's image embossed on currency notes.

First and foremost, Ambedkar was a great economist. He was among the first set of Indian economists to get training from abroad. He received a Baroda State Scholarship to join the Political Science Department of the Columbia University in 1913 as a post-graduate student.

Among his teachers were the most eminent economists of the time like John Dewey and Edwin Seligman. He passed the MA in economics in 1915. In 1916, he went on to join the London School of Economics, where he worked under Edwin Canon, another famous economist.

His thesis, The Problem of the Rupee, which was published in 1923, is one of the foremost papers that discusses the exchange rate conundrum.

The thesis was prepared in response to a clash between the colonial administration and Indian business interests on the rupee's value, says Niranjan Rajadhyaksha in his article in the Mint.

"..A managed currency is to be altogether avoided when the management is to be in the hands of the government," Ambedkar told the Hilton Young Commission in 1925. He was of the opinion that a managed currency will result in reckless issue of rupee -- a view most relevant in the present context, when a surfeit of liquidity arising out of printed money is adversely impacting the global economy.

According to the RBI website, the central bank was set up on the basis of the recommendations of the Hilton-Young Commission.

His thesis on the rupee received rave reviews. According to this article, The Times (London) described the book as an, "excellent piece of work. English style is easy; and his knowledge of his subject obviously very full... "

Meanwhile, The Economist (London) said: "It is a clear and ably written book. Certainly, none of the other numerous works on one or the other aspect of the monetary problem have anything like the readability of this tract."

Imprinting Ambedkar's image on currency notes also has a symbolic significance.

Ambedkar, as of now, is identified mostly as a Dalit hero. No doubt, he is. But Ambedkar was a multifaceted personality. His career as an economist is yet to be recognised and studied. One reason for this could be that the political developments after Ambedkar's return to India did not allow him devote much time to economics. He was preoccupied with the Dalit empowerment and fighting the caste pernicious caste system.

Printing his image on currency notes will go a long way in bringing his contributions to economics back into the reckoning. It will give Ambedkar the position he deserves in the economic history of India.

The RBI says on its website: The motifs appearing on Indian currency notes reflect the changing socio-cultural ethos and the world-view of the times.

If this is true, it is pertinent that the central bank introduces Ambedkar series of currency notes at the earliest. At a time when the community is facing repressions from many quarters, it will instil confidence and dignity among the Dalits.

That the RBI has not yet done this speaks volumes about the way we treat the Dalits.

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Updated Date: Dec 21, 2014 00:29:54 IST