In the secret language of corruption in India, an official expecting a bribe will ask for Mahatma Gandhi to “smile” at him. The revered leader of the independence movement is on all denominations of rupee notes. With rampant dishonesty ingrained in the bureaucratic culture, an anticorruption group has decided to interpret the euphemism literally by issuing a zero-rupee note. A direct copy of the 50-rupee note, including Gandhi’s portrait, it is designed to be handed out to officials who demand backhanders.
In the place of the usual promise of redemption by the central bank governor, the new pledge is: “I promise to neither accept nor give bribe.” 5th Pillar, the organization behind the initiative, says that the note will allow ordinary Indians to make a statement against corruption without provoking a confrontation with people in authority. It has printed 25,000 notes and is distributing them in the southern city of Chennai as part of a wider mission to stamp out corruption “at all levels of society”. Vijay Anand, the president of 5th Pillar, said: “People have already started using them and it is working. An auto-rickshaw driver was pulled over by a policeman in the middle of the night who said he could go if he was ‘taken care of’. The driver gave him the note instead. The policeman was shocked but smiled and let him go. The purpose of this is to instill confidence in people to say no to bribery. It is just a representation.”
The group says that it has checked its legal position carefully and is not deemed to be printing counterfeit money because the official design is on only one side. The other side carries its mission statement.