Does the Tata group really give capitalism a good reputation?
Jamsetji Nusserwanji, founder of the Tata group.
It is a useful way to see the rise of the group. When Singapore split from Malaysia in 1965 and Lee Kuan Yew, its Prime Minister, wanted to revive the economy, he turned to Tata for help in setting up a training institute to improve skills. skills of the Singaporean workforce. Aunty obliged. If Tata was unable to capitalize on such overseas forays in the following years, it had a lot to do with the restrictive environment of the Indira Gandhi years, when capitalists were viewed with suspicion, preventing expansion to abroad. I remember retired Singaporean bureaucrats wistfully remembering JRD Tata’s visits to the island, saying that if only India hadn’t thwarted capitalists like him, Tata could have been a global brand like Korea. chaebol or from Japan sogoshoshas. That Tata has succeeded despite the obstacles, now owning renowned brands like Jaguar Land Rover, with its software arm, Tata Consultancy Services, which has become indispensable for the global information technology industry, is to its credit. Indeed, in 150 years, it has spun textiles, forged steel, produced hydroelectric power and flew airplanes across India.
Raianu’s tone is sober and emotionless. He admires the group’s rise to power, but stresses that what made it possible was not only the entrepreneurial spirit and commitment to ethical conduct, but also the confluence of colonial and corporate priorities, as well as two specific laws that facilitated the expansion of the Tatas – the acquisition of land. Act of 1894 and Charitable Endowments Act of 1890. These were intended to “strengthen the reach and power of the colonial state,” as he puts it, but they also enabled Tata to acquire land for its factories and his charitable arm to establish the basis of his philanthropy. Tata’s genius was not only to see India as a territorially integrated economic entity, but also to trust Indian thought by investing in India’s knowledge infrastructure, through universities, laboratories. and research institutes. The soft power that Tata has enjoyed, according to Raianu, is due to the institutionalization of philanthropy as a strategic means of obtaining the social license to operate.
Tata’s access to land and labor, as well as resources, is also remarkable. Tata traveled to Jamshedpur early, and by identifying steel and textiles – two products that British colonial rulers wanted at the turn of the 20th century – Jamshedji Tata understood that aligning corporate interests with government priorities is a good thing. Jamshedpur may have become the first corporate city in India. And despite the Tatas’ lukewarm relationship with India’s liberation movement, when there was social unrest in a Tata unit, Mohandas Gandhi went to the facility, calling on workers to take a more constructive and less confrontational.
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While the Indira Gandhi years were difficult for most private companies in India, the Jawaharlal Nehru years (1947-64) were not necessarily happy for business either. Indeed, Tata lost control of Air India during Nehru’s time when the government nationalized the airline, and Nehru was unhappy when he found out that Tata intended to support the Swatantra party. Naval Tata even ran in the Lok Sabha election in South Mumbai, as the constituency was then called, and came in just behind the winning Congress candidate, frustrating George Fernandes’ chances of winning the seat.
The Tatas do not hesitate to play courtiers either. JRD Tata praised the urgency, just as Ratan Tata was a cheerleader for Narendra Modi. But they were also adept at embracing the idea of tutelage that Mohandas Gandhi championed, and as Raianu shows, they were skillfully guided in this by Jayaprakash Narayan and Minoo Masani.
Raianu has studied Tata’s archives extensively, but he is not indebted to them. As he rightly notes, relations with unions and communities deteriorated over time: in 1996, a union leader was assassinated, allegedly by a rival faction in Gopalpur, Odisha, and the strike at the factory. Maharashtra’s Telco in 1989 was controversial. A dozen Adivasis protesters were killed in police gunfire in Kalinganagar, Odisha, in 2006. And Tata had to move its car factory from Singur in West Bengal to Sanand in Gujarat in 2008 due to community opposition. local. And as he astutely observes, with increased automation and competition in the global steel industry, it may no longer be possible for the Tatas to act in the benevolent paternalistic way they did in the last century. .
Salil Tripathi is a New York-based writer.
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