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Thursday, Jan 08, 2004

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Bill of wrongs in the right place?

D. Murali

THERE is sufficient rancour among accountants, for varied reasons though. For some, bitterness is due to the Bill of wrongs in the right place, even as there are a few who think that at last the Government has done something right though the timing thereof is wrong. Also, there is acrimony arising from election results trickling from Indraprastha Marg, where they are drawing up the new roster of who is going to sit in the hallowed rooms of central and regional councils of the Institute of Chartered Accountants of India. As usual, winners are celebrating while the losers put up a brave face; but even the victors seem to be worried that their term hangs in a balance.

For onlookers, they look like the hapless Nawab of Avadh, in Shatranj Ke Khilari, who handed over his kingdom to the British without a fight, singing to himself a couplet. The king that Satyajit Ray had portrayed was, after all, an indifferent ruler, who preferred arts to matters of state or politics; he was a poet, composer, singer, dancer and a choreographer.

Continuing with the metaphor, the wealthy landlords in the kingdom, comparable to the elected elite who sit round an elliptical table, perhaps, did nothing; they were addicted to the game of chess, playing as per the ancient Indian rules of the game, ignorant of a different kind of chess played by the British. Ditto here, too, with the DCA making its moves while bean counters were bungling right and left.

You have, therefore, a profession that feels betrayed not only by the crafty accountants who saw gains in bending too far backwards to spruce up their clients' bottomline, but also by a body of those entrusted to run the affairs of the Institute presenting the sorry spectacle of having only been going through the motions of governance at the end of their three-year term.

After the Bill has been all over the Net, the ICAI wakes up and puts it on its site, yet it proffers no comments. It is said that the Institute sent its views to the DCA though its members are not aware of what they acquiesced with and what they protested against. The correspondence between the ICAI and the DCA is perhaps too secret to reveal to the hundred thousand members whom the changes would affect. Ridiculously amateurish or a case of professional backstabbing, whichever way you like.

To be fair, however, there are individual representatives who are good, but as a group, they are but a caricature. The problem is with the accountant mindset that reduces everything to equations of cost and benefit.

They know how to identify the centre of gravity of seats of power, and also what it takes to sway the decision one way or the other. "The lawyer's truth is not Truth, but consistency or a consistent expediency," Henry David Thoreau had said. Similarly, doctors are criticised as looking at `heart' as something that exists inside the ribcage.

What of accountants? Probably, for them, `common good' is too abstract to account for in the books, while personal good is too tangible to ignore. Which is why, it would be interesting to chart individual growth graphs of those who promise to dissolve their identities and work for a common cause.

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