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Thursday, 27 November 2014

Dhanalakshmi Bank and Hindu Economy in Kerala

There are news reports from various quarters that the Kerala based Dhanalakshmi Bank is having troubles. First revealed by the bank officers union, AIBOC, that things are not in good shape the news caught on and the share market reacted. As it is the data of latest profits show a sharp fall, if that data can be believed. There are allegations that the CD ratio of the bank in Kerala has shown big fall. As it is the indications are not all rosy. The charges include attempts by a Mumbai lobby trying to capture the bank, also that the headquarters of the bank is being shifted to Mumbai from Trissur in central Kerala. Some of the share market advisors are also seen advising people that they pull out from Dhanalakshmi Bank. There are certainly under currents that are not visible to the people.
The issue cannot be taken as a stock market fluctuation, it sounds like the beginning of a proverbial run on one bank, what erodes investor confidence and makes it collapse. This has to be viewed in the context of, one, Kerala’s general economy where the Hindu segment is increasingly getting marginalized. Two, this bank in particular is important as they deal with the temple finance of Kerala. Famous temples like Sabarimala have their dealings with Dhanalakshmi. So also the apex body looking after major temples in Kerala named Travancore Devaswom Board. In that sense one has to say that it has implications to the Hindu sector. There are other similar banks like Nedungadi Bank, another bank in Hindu management, which faced similar fates and merged with the state bank group few years back. For Kerala it has its own specific problems unlike other states, more so the Hindu segment in Kerala, what cannot be ignored.
Dhanalakshmi Bank was floated by a group of Brahmin families in the 1920s in Trissur. Some of the Brahmin communities in Kerala are traditional money lenders and this tradition the bank inherited. The Dhanalakshmi bank showed a major climb in the last couple of decades when a large number of small banks collapsed in the era of globalization. This was when the Reserve Bank stopped giving permissions to new banks with low capital investments and a large number wound up. Obviously at the behest of forces controlling global capital this was a problem for the low capital Hindu sector. Now when the Christian sector banks in Kerala like the Catholic Syrian Bank and South Indian bank are doing very well what is happening to Dhanalakshmi is a matter of serious concern. When the capital starved Hindus of Kerala are falling by the day the scene is grave. This also has to be viewed in the backdrop of community rivalry in Kerala where some of the minority Christian communities, they too traditional money lenders and traders, play tricks in the competition.
It was when the Christian community became menacing after independence, with their long alliance during the British regime, that C P Ramaswamy Iyer, a Diwan, Prime Minister, in Travancore tried to teach a lesson to the National Quilon Bank, a bank owned by the Syrian Christians. But later they managed to paint CP, as he was called, black, media reach helped. More they became more powerful through another bank, vote bank, took control of state economy. They also used education and media, both in Kerala came under their control. More curious, they used the caste divisions to stake control where so called backward communities like Ezhavas became game, Hindu leader communities were attacked. This continued till enlightened leaders took over leadership in that community. Not many Kerala thinkers or intellectuals saw the changes busy as they were in dreaming of the Communist utopia. Meanwhile the naive Communists whose new leadership got caught in caste wars became victims. This is the story of how Christian and Muslim political parties came to dictating terms in Kerala and also how the state has a coalition now with Oommen Chandy as Chief Minister.
Kerala has two economies at present, one a high end minority economy and two a marginal Hindu economy. This can be seen in the villages where the Hindu petty shop owner shall be seen buying half a kilogram of sugar and thinking how many teas can be made from that. In the neighborhood the minority business man shall be negotiating multi-billion enterprises. How majority Hindus are now dependent on minority capital, education and health care, media and their voice is numbed. Majority are watching helpless, some radical Hindu groups calling for violence, what causes aprehensions. The minority communities in Kerala with their international links, loyalties and incomes have advantages and the natives cannot beat them in the present Euro-centric economy. Petro-dollars flooded Kerala as also church linked dollars where the Hindu economy shrank. Most of Hindu assets lost, huge Hindu populations displaced from the state.
Thus the issue of Dhanalakshmi Bank cannot be viewed in isolation. Though it is known that the bank caters to Hindu temples and major institutions like the Amritanandamayi Muth the team running the bank is invisible. The question is how much competent and more important, participative, is the bank management. The present chief is a north Indian Brahmin is all that is known. The Nedungadui bank was with Hindu noble castes but wound up is a lesson. If it is a secretive operation this bank is following, now that the threat is evident, they have to correct it, including better professionals from the Hindu community as well. There is also another contextual significance to this as the allegationof a Mumbai lobby with the present chief trying to wean away the bank to Mumbai. Though no one knows if such a move is there.
It was in this context that the wealth discovered at the Padmanabhaswamy temple became a matter of debate. The Hindu leaders demanded that at least a part of the wealth at Thiruvananthapuram be used for the ailing community. Funds generated keeping this as security as they have done at Tirupati temple. This demand remains and once the stock taking is over there shall be new developments. This routed through the Dhanalakshmi Bank which is the only major Hindu bank in Kerala as of now. The scenario is thus ripe with possibilities and the moves by various lobbies to create trouble is understandable. Interestingly the state bank group now shows great enthusiasm, as some reports tell, to deal with the Travancore Devaswom Board, what was not seen so far. Kerala had miserable CF ratios for long. The myopic Hindu politicians shall not know the subtle moves. Here the cornered Hindu community, particularly professionals and those in the media, have to be alert and show some amount of enlightened self interest.
When a similar scene evolved in the case of Tamilnadu Mercantile Bank, majority shares owned by the Hindu Nadar community there, the whole community stood by and even the smallest member chipped in their lot. They generated fabulous amounts and reportedly prevented its fall and take over. Nothing of the kind happened in the case of Nedungadi Bank, but at least now the Hindu segment in Kerala has to become alert. Capital starved Hindus need their own banks and funds, also discretionary fund dispensing. The Tamilnadu model is possible in this case too, but for that to work the Dhanalakshmi Bank has to do some home work. The Hindu NRIs and in future perhaps the temple wealth, can be pooled in that the God’s Bank, as they call it, in Kerala is resurrected to glory. It is for the present management to act and leaving rumors unattended shall sooner or later catch up with them. This is an area where the Hindu economists now caught in sheepish debates ought to show some courage.

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