The role of urban co-operative bank in shaping a New India became obvious on the occasion of the third Eknath Thakur Memorial Lecture when the current chairman and the son of the late cooperative doyen Gautam Thakur shared some startling facts related to both the Saraswat Bank and his father.
“Few people know that the first computers which Infosys’s Narayan Murthy and Nandan Nilekani bought were financed by Saraswat Bank,” said Gautam Thakur underlining the core spirit of UCB which aims to help those urban entrepreneurs, whom commercial banks would not touch with a barge pole.
Even the Ambanis were our customers when the world did not know them; there are in fact hundreds of successful entrepreneurs who have benefited from Saraswat Bank or some other UCBs, he said. UCBs may not be a blue-eyed boy but it certainly reaches out to people when other financial institutions are reluctant to help them, added Thakur.
“But it indeed hurts to see that banks who got license five years ago are given a free hand to grow while 100 years old Saraswat Bank with a proven track record is checked on its tack. And despite this in the last 2-3 years we have added more than Rs 20,000 crore of business”, said Thakur.
Claiming to have the zeal of becoming number one co-op bank not only in Asia but also in the world Gautam Thakur said that we have the capacity to open 50 branches every year only if the govt allows us to. “Despite a stifling financial ecosystem for UCBs in the country Saraswat Bank has been able to add more than Rs 20,000 crore of business in the last 2-3 years”, said Thakur.
Recalling the vision of the late Eknath Thakur for Saraswat Bank Gautam narrated how he would balance his time between the bank and his obligations as Rajya Sabha member. “He would come back from the Parliament by the evening flight and would go through the agenda of BoD meeting till 3 am in the morning only to catch a return flight for Delhi the next day”, recalled Gautam Thakur.
“He had unflinching commitment for the cooperative movement in general and Saraswat Bank in particular”, he added.
When he became ill and was barely able to speak, he would remain awake till late in the evening for me to return from the Bank and brief him on the bank’s activities, narrated Gautam. “He took interest in the affairs and growth of the bank till he breathed his last; in fact his last words were an instruction related to Saraswat Bank.
Gautam also narrated how in his last days the late Eknath Thakur who was unable to formulate words, conveyed his wish to Gautam to give a few staff-members of the bank promotion. “I still remember a few names such as RT Patil and others whose promotion he wanted to ensure before leaving his body”, said Gautam in a choked voice.
Emphasizing his father’s commitment for the co-operative movement Gautam Thakur said that even the God that he got installed at the Eknath Bhawan, the headquarters of Saraswat Bank was that of Vithal, who is seen as Lord of cooperation.
A visionary par excellence the late Eknath Thakur always felt cooperative should have a face. The current headquarters of Saraswat Bank at Prabha Devi which is majestic in style and grandeur is a stamp of the late leader’s vision. ‘He was very steadfast in achieving his goal”, said Gautam narrating briefly how difficult it was to get the Prabha Devi land.