When I look at Gandhiji’s face on a gold coin, it gives me mixed emotions. The coin I refer to is 24 karat, of various weights, is 99.9 per cent pure and is sold by the Indian Overseas Bank. Somehow, Gandhi and gold coins don’t seem to go together.

Gandhiji adorns various bank notes. I dofeel guilty when I try to pay a bar bill which he would vehemently disapprove. I could then duck and use a credit card instead. But the gold coin is not meant for transactions and perhaps can hold my savings.

We don’t really know what Gandhiji thought of the savings habit. He was a baniya and that revealed itself in many ways. For one, he was extremely frugal, and so the idea of savings should have appealed to him. While on the Salt March, he was very upset that money was being spent on ‘luxuries’ like buying fruits and milk. He frowned at using petromax lantern when the cheaper hurricane lantern was available.

Every penny counts

Gandhi excelled at accounting and believed that accounting for expenses encouraged economy. While a student of law in London, he began the practice of keeping a detailed record of his expenses, a discipline he carried through all his life. He even purchased a book on book-keeping and studied it, for the case he was retained by Dada Abdullah in South Africa was largely about accounts.

In correspondence with GD Birla, one of his benefactors, we find examples of him explaining how much he spent of the donations received from Birla, although the latter did not want to know.

Gandhiji considered himself very good at raising funds for public causes and never shied away from asking directly for donations. But his attitude towards building a corpus is quite revealing. It was his ‘firm conviction that it is not good to run public institutions on permanent funds.’

He believed that public institutions should only exist with public support and should be answerable to the public for their activities. By having a permanent corpus, a disconnect develops between the institution and the public. So, the institution should go back to the public every year, explain its past actions, and seek funds for the coming year. It bothered him that religious trusts do not render accounts, and became answerable to no one.

While at South Africa, his clients often left their savings with him for safe keeping. Once, with the consent of one of them, he advanced money towards an enterprise. When the loan went bad, he made good the amount with his own funds. I wonder what Subrata Roy of Sahara would say of this?

But of course, all the money we use to buy gold coins are perhaps beyond what we ‘need’ for the present, and so Gandhiji would want us to think of it as being held in trust for society and be used to benefit society. His notions of trusteeship had few supporters and although he was generally in favour of limiting the role of government in people’s lives, towards the end, he began to contemplate some kind of regulation to back trusteeship.

I read that the bank has put the gold coin in a tamper proof package — perhaps to discourage its use? I should add that the bank has also carefully chosen an image for the gold coin that is identical to that on our currency notes. Gandhi does not really look straight at you. Whew!

The writer is a professor at the Jindal Global Business School, Delhi NCR and Suffolk University, Boston