The last Gandhian is a banker. At least the ones working in what we Indians love to call public sector undertakings. These hardy undertakers lend shiploads of money to captains of industry entirely for the pleasure of doing so. Not for them seven-figure salaries or eight-figure bonuses, the bosses of our PSU banks choose to work for less than what their private, or foreign, counterparts pay their secretaries. The State Bank of India can swallow the top five private Indian banks without a burp. But the lunch served in its boardroom remains the humble idli and sambhar. Takes frugal management to an altogether different plane than the one we saw a particular political party embarked in the name of austerity or the grab-it-while-you-can din from a slew of over perky members of Parliament hankering for a raise.
Place yourself in one of these gents' shoes. You're being flown in a corporate jet to a project site fully in the knowledge that the flight alone costs more than a month's pay and the cheque you will sign at the end of it will have several zeros beyond your wife's comprehension. A man's perspective alters dramatically when he is sipping a 12-year-old red at 30,000 feet, and what would strike us on the ground as a sure recipe for greasy palms does not occur to our intrepid banker. Perish the thought, integrity is his middle name.
Look at the achievements of this selfless cadre. In a decade from 1969, when banks were first nationalised and told to go to the villages, the Hindu rate of growth crept up from 3.5 per cent to 5. Since then, as bank branches sprouted in every nook and cranny, our growth rate has sprinted to 9 per cent as more Indians put their savings in banks. Seven-figure salaries would be a small compense for the men who made it possible.