NOBODY LIKES TO BE CALLED “just an accountant”—probably not even accountants. So it was an impressive jab when Sushil Kumar, the lawyer for former telecommunications minister Andimuthu Raja, hit India’s Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) with the news that “the CAG is just an accountant… He is not a lawyer, but just an accountant… howsoever high he may be.”
Ouch. It’s not easy for a man in Raja’s position—jailed, and accused by the CAG of lightening the exchequer by `1.76 trillion—to land a blow so neatly in the gut of his accuser. But the words “just an accountant” incite an identity crisis that the CAG is just beginning to experience. It’s an identity crisis that threatens the comptroller’s power, and begins from the very word we use to describe him.
What does the comptroller do? It’s an odd title, which muddles your sense of his function rather than clarifying it. “Auditor” is more helpful, and gets you as far as identifying CAG as the office which examines the claims of other accounting divisions in the government. Yet it’s hard to ignore the lead word, and the vague responsibilities that might be dictated by the intriguing verb, “to comptrol”. Could Raja be right? Is a man who comptrols just an accountant? Or is he something more—something Raja wouldn’t like to admit?