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Indian Army wanted Royal Enfield Bullets — Nehru ensured they were ‘made in India’ first

In ‘Indian Icon’, Amrit Raj traces the journey of Royal Enfield setting up an Indian company with Madras Motors because the Army wanted hardy bikes.

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Royal Enfield had come to acquire a fair amount of fan- following in the immediate years after the Second World War. During the War, the Redditch-based company made and supplied the ‘Flying Flea’ to the British Army as a means of transport for its paratroopers. These 125cc, 2-stroke engine bikes that produced 2.5 hp power could be dropped by parachute in a tubular crate behind enemy lines. Nothing like this had been done before. These bikes were fast enough for army purposes, light-weight, and able to get through where heavier vehicles would not.

Some Royal Enfield bikes were also being imported to India by Madras Motors Ltd Its owner K.R. Sundaram Iyer (KRS) also imported a host of other British bikes. In search of greener pastures, KRS and his nephew K. Eswaran had moved to the then Madras from their ancestral village in Kallidaikurichi in Tamil Nadu just before the Second World War started.

‘One worked as a fitter in the cycle shop and another as an accounts clerk in a cycle shop they eventually acquired. Then they also took over English Cycle, which was another cycle shop, and English Cycle was also importing bicycles from UK and selling it,’ Kapil Viswanathan, the grandson of KRS, told me in an interview for this book.

Gradually, KRS and Eswaran went on to become importers of motorcycle brands such as Raleigh, Rudge, Humber, BSA, Hercules, and Enfield.

Also read: ‘Indian Icon’, a new book that traces the journey of the legendary Royal Enfield bikes

In 1952, Madras Motors received an order for 500 350cc Bullets from the Indian Army, a model the company had launched three years ago in the UK. The motorcycles arrived from Redditch in early 1953 and proved to be a great success, being both hardy and easy to maintain. The army officers who rode the motorcycle in flat, cultivable lands to patrol Indian borders felt it was better than the bikes they used.

After 1947, the Indian Army had been using Triumphs and BSAs to patrol the newly-created Indian borders.

However, these motorcycles were prone to many mechanical glitches and frequent wear and tear. To compound the problem, they were all imported.

The Indian Army was so impressed with the Bullets that it wanted to place an order for more bikes. However, the Indian government was of the opinion that the bikes be locally manufactured.

The Indian government under Jawaharlal Nehru was operating on a shoe-string budget and wanted motorcycles that could be acquired at a reasonable cost. They were specifically on the hunt for ones that could be manufactured locally, that could at a later stage be ‘Made in India’. Nehru’s government believed this would allow industrialisation to take root in the country.

The British manufacturer agreed to the terms and conditions of the Indian government and presented the 350cc, 4-stroke Royal Enfield Bullet.

The next task was to find a joint venture partner in a mostly barren motorcycle landscape. This would come from an unlikely region, one that was far from the mountains and the northern plains of India.

‘T.T. Krishnamachari was the commerce minister at the time and my grandfather and he … they knew each other rather well. By Independence, my granddad was fairly well established as a large cycle importer, seller, and re-seller,’ Viswanathan said.

Also read: Hamara Bajaj — the jingle that became a symbol of Indian pride

In 1955, Enfield India Ltd was formed as a 51:49 joint venture in favour of Madras Motors and owned by KRS and Eswaran. The duo later split the business once it diversified into power transmission in the 1960s. While KRS and his sons retained Enfield India, Eswaran and his family kept the power transmission business.

Enfield India had a solid start on the back of their first order from the Indian Army for the 350cc Bullet, whose rhythmic thump is part of folklore.

In 1956, a manufacturing plant was built in the Tiruvottiyur locality of North Madras and the production of motorcycles began in a phased manner. A total of 163 Bullets were built by the end of the year. The first completely ‘Made in India’ Enfield rolled out of the factory in 1962. India was now making and selling Royal Enfield Bullets.

KRS’s eldest son, S. Sankaran, and later, his younger one, S. Viswanathan, took charge of managing the company. KRS’s second son S.R. Subramanian headed Madras Motors, distributing the company’s products at the national level. In pre-liberalisation India’s protected market conditions, with limited competition, Enfield India slowly but steadily flourished.

When the Indian Army placed a big order for 500 Royal Enfield 350cc Bullets with Madras Motors in 1952, it could have broken a forty-three-year-old colonial record for selling the greatest number of single-brand motorcycles in India.

The record until then was held by Francis Benjamin Stewart, the famed photographer who had filmed the Delhi Durbar for Lord Curzon in 1903. Stewart ran a company based out of Pune called Messrs. F.B. Stewart and Son. Among other things, the company was also the distributor of Triumph Motorcycles in the country and they held the record for selling 136 Triumph motorcycles in the country in less than five years.

This excerpt from ‘Indian Icon: A Cult Called Royal Enfield’ by Amrit Raj has been published with permission from Westland Publications.

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  1. Also please don’t forget his contribution to Article 370, 1962 China war, appeasement of minority to create a vote bank, creating a dynasty.

    • When Nehru died, it was Shastri who took over man. Then where is the question of dynasty. In post independence India, what the country has achieved is significant.

  2. Although too much of an idealist Nehru was one of the best PM India ever had. Contradict me after studying history apart from whatsapp forwards.

  3. My grandfather Achuta Srinivasan was the first one to assemble this product in Indian , he also visited African countries and trained others to hand assemble Royal Enfield bullets. Almost all the mentioned were my grandfathers friends.

  4. Nehru bought Kurt tank a German technocrat to make first combat jet and he made it in 6 years (first prototype) due to the low thrust engine it could not became our main combat jet. Indirra and Rajiv was not a visionary to carry on that legacy.

    • डू यू फील जलन ऑन हीयरिंग अबाउट नेहरू। ही वाज बेटर देन बकेश्वर। देखो

  5. Whether it may be promotional article but how it can be helpful in present scenario.
    Unless we don’t have confirm details we shouldn’t neglect our previous leaders. Make in India was a moto since long but slogan now only.

  6. Stop looking at people from your political identities and you will realise what actually they have contributed to our Nation 🙏

  7. By the way Indian National Congress was formed by a britisher., Before they could free India, & Nehru was made to lead …strings attached. He never did anything until & unless he gained personally….or for his pleasures

    • Yes ,Nehru spent close to ten years in British prisons for his own benefit……..Stop spouting bull that you learn from WhatsApp factories, go back to school and lear some proper history…

  8. What else did emperor Neru do? Fiddled with lady Mt Baton when India burned? You have to write about that too.

  9. Pandit Nehruji laid the foundation of modern india and ushered industrialization in an predominantly agriculture based country and nobody can deny it. Either you may love or hate Nehruji, But one cannot ignore his contribution to Nation Building.

  10. Did anyone notice that all these industrialists were upper-caste Hindoos? Look how upper caste Hindoos exploited the poor of India and kept them poor. Even today many of these companies continue to exist and they pay a paltry sum of money as wages. They do not allow dalits and lower-caste Hindoos to prosper. Today the BJP Govt has driven out all multinational companies away from India, because these multinational companies respected dalits and lower-caste Hindoos and gave them proper jobs and respectable salaries. They BJP Govt discovered that dalits and lower-caste Hindoos were becoming powerful and well educated. So, they started to destroy and sue multinational companies like Vodafone etc. They do not want lower-caste Hindoos to do business and prosper. They want only upper-caste Hindoos to do business in India, so that the can retain their superiority.

  11. Nehru deserves credit for industrialization india and towing country to science and tech path – from ISRO to IITs

  12. Great Article And So Very True When The British East India Company Exited India They Left Behind a Fantastic Infrastructure That Was Built Upon By Indias First 2 Prime ministers Pundit Nehru @ Mr L.B .Shastri Both Men Of Vision. The End Result Was Design/Build Locally Setting Up Small/Medium/Large Scale Industry Units Run By Enterprising Indians A Perfect Example Is The Industrial Capital Of The Punjab Ludhiana. Its A Shame That After 1995 The wrong types Of Govts And Leaders were Elected To Power Whos Agenda Has Mostly Been Self Interest Corporate Capitalism.

  13. Nehru also ensured the path to his dynasty in our polity which in turn ensured India’s slide to socialistic miasma which led to our decline in world’s share of manufacturing and GDP.

  14. According to BJP leaders, Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru ruined the country. So this was another plan of Nehruji to destabilise India by doing joint venture with foreign countries instead of 100% Make in India. This shows the narrow attitude of Congress Party and the broad vision of BJP party.

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