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Rahul Bajaj — Indian industry loses a fearless voice, & a titan who gave the middle class wheels

Bajaj was known not only for his boldness, but also his business acumen. His domestically manufactured Chetak Scooter became a household staple for the middle class in the 1970s.

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New Delhi: A fearless and independent voice of the Indian industry, Rahul Bajaj gave India the domestically manufactured Chetak Scooter which went on to become a household staple, especially among the middle class in the 1970s. He spoke his mind when needed, fully aware of its consequences. 

Bajaj, 83, passed away from pneumonia and other health complications Saturday, marking the end of an era where businessmen could stand to the powers that be.

At an award function in Delhi in 2019, in the presence of Home Minister Amit Shah, Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman and Commerce Minister Piyush Goyal, Bajaj had stood up to voice his concern that there was “an environment of fear” in the country, and that industrialists were not confident that they would be appreciated if they openly criticised the government. Such was the stature of Bajaj, that his brief yet voluminous remark resonated all over social media for several days, reigniting the debate on intolerance in the country.

Holding a management degree from Harvard Business School in the United States, Bajaj took over the Bajaj Group in 1965. He moved to Pune from Mumbai to manufacture two and three-wheelers from a backward area of the region, but made it the hub of growth for the group’s flagship company, Bajaj Auto. Under his leadership, Bajaj Auto saw its turnover grow to Rs 12,000 crore from just Rs 7.2 crore (according to the company’s third annual report 2009-10), with the firm’s scooters becoming the mainstay.       

Also Read: Pallonji Mistry and Rahul Bajaj among world’s 20 richest automotive moguls

‘In corridors of Udyog Bhawan’

But not all was hunky-dory at Bajaj Auto since its inception. Bajaj sometimes had to wait for a long time before getting the permit to manufacture two-wheelers beyond permitted capacity.

The rules under the Monopolistic and Restrictive Trade Practices Act, 1969, stipulated that a company could produce only up to 25 per cent more than its licensed capacity. “I used to spend my time in the corridors of Udyog Bhawan instead of the factory,” Bajaj had written in a magazine column in 2014.

Udyog Bhawan houses the ministries of commerce and industry, steel, micro, small and medium enterprises and heavy industries.

Today, Bajaj Auto’s market capitalisation is more than Rs 1 lakh crore. Bajaj diversified his group’s business into insurance, financial services and home appliances, electric lamps, wind energy, special alloy, and stainless steel.

‘Hamara Bajaj’

His iconic ‘Hamara Bajaj’ ad campaign, launched primarily to compete with foreign motorcycle brands like Yamaha, Suzuki and Honda, set the yardsticks for the Indian advertising industry. Time was of essence for the campaign as it coincided with India opening its doors in late 1980s to foreign players in the two-wheeler market, and there was a shift in demand from scooters to motorbikes.

Bajaj handed over the management of the group to his two sons Rajiv and Sanjiv in 2005 and took on a larger and more guiding role in the business. He was elected to the Rajya Sabha in 2006 after the demise of veteran politician Pramod Mahajan, and remained on that seat as a Member of Parliament for four years. Apart from honorary doctorates from many universities, Bajaj received the Padma Bhushan, India’s third highest civilian honour, in 2001.  

Bajaj resigned as the chairman of Bajaj Auto in April last year, citing his age, after which his cousin Niraj Bajaj became the company’s chairman.

As the news of his demise became public, tributes started pouring in from Prime Minister Narendra Modi and other cabinet ministers to every stalwart of the Indian industry. “Shri Rahul Bajaj Ji will be remembered for his noteworthy contributions to the world of commerce and industry. Beyond business, he was passionate about community service and was a great conversationalist. Pained by his demise. Condolences to his family and friends. Om Shanti,” the PM tweeted Saturday.

Bajaj, known not only for his boldness but also his business acumen, had said in a 2016 interview: “If you don’t have the passion, the fire in your belly, you’re not going to reach the top.”

(Edited by Gitanjali Das)

Also Read: If BJP leaders could speak like Rahul Bajaj, this is what they would tell Modi & Amit Shah


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