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For India's Rupee, a New Identity

By Rama Lakshmi
Washington Post Foreign Service
Saturday, May 16, 2009

NEW DELHI -- It has a venerable culture. It has growing economic might. But what India doesn't have is a currency symbol that reflects those things, according to its government, which has launched a public competition to find one.

Unlike other major currencies such as the U.S. dollar, the British pound, the euro and the Japanese yen, the Indian rupee lacks an easily recognizable identification symbol -- a logo to set beside the $, the £, the € and the ¥. It is currently depicted around the world as either "Rs" or "INR" and is designated differently in various Indian languages.

In March, the Finance Ministry called for suggestions for a logo in a nationwide contest. It attracted about 3,000 entries before it closed April 15.

"The Indian economy is growing at a fast rate, and it will get more integrated with the global economy with the passage of time," Govind Mohan, a ministry official, said in an e-mail response to questions about the purpose of the contest. "The symbol would standardise the expression for Indian Rupee in different languages, within and outside the country. It will better distinguish the Indian currency from those countries whose currencies are also designated as Rupee or Rupiah, such as Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Indonesia."

A seven-member jury, including representatives from the government, the central bank and two fine arts colleges, is expected to meet soon to examine the submissions. Mohan said it should take a year to select the symbol. There have been no considerations yet about when it might be adopted or how much that will cost.

The winning entrant will receive $5,000 and five runners-up will each get $500.

Open, a national weekly English-language newsmagazine, published in its April 10 issue several design suggestions submitted by readers that borrow motifs from ancient Indian scripts or incorporate the Buddhist wheel icon that is also at the center of the national flag. Government officials have not revealed any contest submissions ahead of the judging, but they appear to favor a similar approach.

"The government expects the symbol to convey the historical and cultural ethos of the country," Mohan said.

India's rising global ambitions are also behind the search for a unique currency identity.

After more than four decades of following a planned, socialist economic model, India began in 1991 to cautiously restructure, embracing free-market reforms aimed at attracting foreign investment. The country's emergence as a global hub for information-technology services also contributed to its robust economic growth in the past decade, which has been slowed only by the current financial crisis.

"This is a big brand-building exercise," said Rajesh Jain, vice president at SMC Global Securities, a large brokerage firm in New Delhi. "When it gets a sign, the Indian rupee will aggressively declare to the world, 'I have arrived.' "

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