What was so wrong with the 2009 1000 rupee note ?
If you might remember, there were quite a few peculiar features of the 1000 rupee note issued by the Central Bank of Sri Lanka (CBSL) in 2009 to commemorate the victory in 4th EELAM war. To start with, it was the first time that an image of a living leader was included in a banknote, though there were coins with the faces of two previous presidents. At the time this initiation was labeled as an ‘undemocratic’ move by the opposition of the parliament. Secondly, the note changed the familiar predominant green color of all the previous 1000 rupee notes that were circulating at that time. It is a common practice in currency design to maintain the consistency of the predominant color of the value for user friendliness. A careful analysis shows that it does not have a single predominant color but an almost equal distribution of blue and yellow. Thirdly, it is rare to see the national flag of a country in a banknote due to strict protocols of placement, displaying it without distortion or cropping etc. Yet in this note there was an illustration of 5 soldiers hoisting the national flag which resembles the iconic Second World War photograph of Iwo Jima. Furthermore, the illustration was heavily criticized by the time it was issued for its poor drawing of perspective/proportion and for its unmatching colors of the boots and uniforms of the 5 soldiers. An article published in the Hindustan Times titled ‘Mahinda on currency, Mongoloid soldiers hoist Lankan flag’ further pointed out errors, specifically of the soldiers having mongoloid features.
A strategically good time to issue
While the design of the note showed many shortfalls as an official banknote, it had great propagandic value to Mahinda Rajapaksha (MR) regime which is worth analysing. The proposal of this new bill was first submitted to the cabinet on 23 September 2009 as the 57th paper. Then the Ministry of Finance was pushed to issue it before the end of November. It can not be a coincidence that on November 23 the dates for the presidential election were announced prior to the officially scheduled time. Furthermore, a special minute based on the Cabinet paper advised that the theme of the obverse of the note should be “one country and one nation in harmony, progressing towards prosperity under the leadership of President, Mahinda Rajapaksa”. Acquiring sole credit for eradicating terrorism became crucial after Field Marshal Sarath Fonseka, the commander of the army during the victory, decided to run for the election. When we consider the propagandic intention of the note, the thought process of juxtaposing the colors of the bill against familiar predominant colors is quite clear. However, it must be noted that the process of color selection for a 1000 rupee note was always a politically biased decision. The first 1000 rupee banknote was established to be green during a UNP government whose official colour is also green.
Is it as effective as it seems ?
Imagine 25 million leaflets in continuous circulation during the peak of your election campaign which will never end up in the trash, with the assurance of passing to the next person after reading. During the election period, CBSL issued only these notes to banks. This element has the potential of reaching voters beyond the canvassing restrictions prior to the election date when other promotional media are illegal. John E. Sandrock explained further that by using these notes the propaganda message is drummed into the subconscious day in and day out, eventually becoming part of the national psyche. Such propaganda messages can take on a variety of forms, some subtle and others direct.
The temptation to use the overused.
Be it a coincidence or a well thought out decision, the designer of the bill has used the most appealing and rhetoric image produced in the 20th century. “Raising the Flag on Iwo Jima” is a photograph taken by Joe Rosenthal in 1945 and is considered as one of the most reproduced images in different mediums. To the date the icon is used to initiate different political discussions or to communicate propagandic messages. There are many photographs from 4th EELAM in the archive which captured different moments in real war victory. Yet Iwo Jima has something which all the victory photos of EELAM war lack of.
“Like any good, experienced and talented photographer, there’s a sense of anticipation and a sense of shooting a picture at peak action — and Joe got it,” Buell said. “You couldn’t have captured the action at a better peak. A moment earlier, and the flag would have been too low. If it had been a second later, the flag’s staff would have been straight up and the photo wouldn’t have had that strong diagonal line.”
Hal Buell, former executive news photo editor at the Associated Press
Even though the note was inspired from one of the best photographs of all times with the highest emotional impact, the final design was not subtle, unlike the original photograph. It was too direct and loud. More than that, it has a lot of noise as a message due to diverse attempts to stand out with color, figures and illustrations. To conclude, this is not a good example of propaganda but is a good example of ….. that is worth an analysis from design stage to public reaction related to a note issued with propagandic motive.
Dilina. J. Nawarathne |Colombo
This article is based on some findings I came across during the completion of my bachelor degree thesis on the 4th EELAM war propaganda in Sri Lanka.