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PNB’s Identity is at Stake

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By RAJ KUMAR SHARMA

Everyone will be proud to know the history of the Punjab National Bank. The story of the establishment of this 125 year old bank is greatly interesting and inspiring. The people associated with the ‘Swadeshi Movement’ had laid the foundation of this bank at a time when Mahatma Gandhi had not even entered the war of independence. This bank was established in 1894. Sardar Dayal Singh Majithia, Lala Harkishan Lal, Lala Lal Chand and Lala Dholan Das were its founding members. These people had already realised that, if the country had to progress after independence, it would have to raise its own financial resources. With this thinking, the foundation of this bank was laid 125 years ago. Apart from these four, Lala Lajpat Rai, who was with the Indian Independence Movement, was also associated with this bank for a long time. He was the first person to open an account in the first branch of the bank near the Arya Samaj Temple in Anarkali area of Lahore. While Lala Lajpat Rai opened his account in the bank, his younger brother took over the command of the bank as a manager. These Prime Ministers of the country also had an account in PNB – Jawaharlal Nehru and Lal Bahadur Shastri – and Mahatma Gandhi also opened an account in this bank. Apart from this, members of the Jallianwala Bagh Committee also expressed confidence in the bank by opening accounts. Gradually, the number of account openers also increased. This is how it started from Lahore. The bank was opened for business on 12 April, 1895, just a day before Baisakhi, the festival of Punjab. The basic elements of the bank were cleared in the first meeting itself. Fourteen shareholders and 7 directors took very little of the bank’s shares. Lala Lajpat Rai, Dayal Singh Majithia, Lala Harkishan Lal, Lala Lalchand, Prabhu Dayal and Lala Dholana Das were actively associated with its management in the early days. Punjab National Bank was the first national and indigenous bank in the true sense. It gradually expanded from one city to another. Within the next five years, it reached Sindh and the North West Frontier Province. It was through this bank that there was prosperity in Punjab. Partition of the Country in 1947 World War II ended in 1945 and India was ready for independence from colonial rule, but the British did not want a united India as it did not fit into their scheme of things for the subcontinent. And there was Mohammed Ali Jinnah, who was not ready to accept anything other than a separate country for Muslims. It was evident that Punjab would bear the brunt of Partition and the management had to plan for the bank, its future and the role it was to play in supporting the community that would be losing all that they owned and have to restart their lives. The management, realising the troubles ahead which a good management should do, in a master stroke of foresight shifted the head office of the bank from West Punjab, which was to go to Pakistan, to Underhill Road in Delhi in June 1947, just months before the Partition. Lahore had gone to Pakistan as was suspected it would. What a smart stroke of management! They had also moved the bulk of the funds of the PNB to India. In those tumultous weeks after partition, PNB had to close 92 branches in West Pakistan that constituted 33 percent of its total number of branches in undivided India. Forty percent of its deposits had vanished. Yet, the managers remained undaunted as the task of helping in nation building and supporting the community was at hand. Lala Yodh Raj was a highly revered figure among the Punjabis of that time, coming as he did from the long line of devoted Lalas and became more so when he assured the hundreds of thousands of account holders who migrated to India telling them that their money in the bank was safe. The migrants who came in from West Punjab were repaid their deposits based upon whatever evidence they could produce. This was the big task which was undertaken by PNB in those days of crisis, that is why our slogan “The bank you can bank upon” proved its worth. Had Lala Yodh Raj not shifted the head office and its funds to India, Punjab National Bank could well have been Pakistan’s biggest bank! The fact is Pakistan had no banks when the country was divided. Nationalisation of Private Banks On 19 July, 1969, the then Prime Minister, Indira Gandhi, nationalised the banks and there was a complete change in the appearance of the banks. The PNB performed its social responsibility well and participated actively in the development of the country. Since then, PNB has remained the Number 1 among the nationalised banks of the country. Mergers of other banks in PNB Till date, 7 banks have been merged in this PNB. These banks were Bhagwan Dass Bank Ltd (1940 pre- independence), Bharat Bank Ltd (1951), Universal Bank of India (1961), Indo Commercial Bank (1961), Hindustan Commercial Bank (1986), New Bank of India (1993) and Nadungadi Bank (2003). Now that the Government of India has decided to merge two other banks, the Oriental Bank of Commerce (OBC) and United Bank of India into the Punjab National Bank, talk of change of the Name and Symbol of the first indigenous bank of this country is in the media and perhaps the Finance Ministry is considering it. These types of mergers of the banks have also taken place in SBI, Canara Bank, Bank of Baroda, but no bank’s name has been changed. Therefore, we, the true citizens of India, demand that no change should be made in the name and symbol of this Swadeshi bank after the merger of two other banks with Punjab National Bank. Some reactions from Senior PNBians Even before this, many banks have been merged into the First Swadeshi Bank, but this kind of question never arises, then why today? All the good and bad things of every bank merged in the past in ‘Punjab National Bank’. And their employees have been absorbed in the bank as sugar in milk, which leaves only sweetness after dissolving. The bank, which has witnessed the freedom struggle of the country, will be allowed to change its name so easily after 125 years of its existence … Not at all! This is the only bank for which the country’s famous freedom fighters, educationists, lawyers, politicians, industrialists came on one platform in 1894. This is the bank for which Hindu, Sikh, Parsi and Bengali communities gathered in 1894. In the true sense, it is the first fully indigenous bank of the country. This is the bank in which many freedom fighters, great politicians, big industrialists kept their accounts. It is the bank that played and will continue to play an important role in developing and enabling the country even after Independence. We are determined that the name of this Swadeshi Bank, which wrote the stories of the country’s independence will never end in the pages of history. Dear colleagues, in my opinion, PNB is synonymous with our Freedom Struggle and it is the legacy of our freedom fighters like Lala Lajpat Rai and Dayal Singh Majithia. Any move to change the name of the bank will be detrimental to the interest of the organisation. PNB is not just a name… It has been a Thought, a Brand, a way of life, a symbol of Indian Freedom Struggle and Aspirations of many generations. Moreover, we must also ponder as to why, out of all the proposed amalgamations and the one of Bank of Baroda, which is already almost one year old, only the change of name and logo is repeatedly appearing in the media about PNB. It’s food for thought for all of us. The idea of changing the bank’s name is preposterous. Brand value of the name is unparalleled in the PSB sector and especially in the group of banks currently getting amalgamated. PNB doesn’t need any support from the smaller entities to strengthen its base. It is the institution on which others can bank upon. No change in our name. In view of the aforesaid, it is necessary to keep alive the glorious history of this Swadeshi Bank, which is more than 125 years of age. Big Country, Big Bank, First Swadeshi Bank, No. 1 PSB Bank – Punjab National Bank. We request each and every citizen of India to forward this message as much as possible so that it reaches the Prime Minister of the country, Narendra Modi, and to save the pride of this indigenous bank of freedom fighters.

(The author is ex-AGM, PNB, ex-State President, AIBOC (All India Bank Officers Confederation), Uttarakhand, and presently Assistant General Secretary, AIPNBPRA (All India PNB Pensioners & Retirees Association).