Image courtesy - Bajaj Auto
In Memoriam – Rahul Bajaj
(JUNE 10, 1938 - FEBRUARY 12, 2022)
This is my humble tribute to Rahul Bajaj a great son and leader of India whose contribution to the nation has been enormous. Through his business Bajaj Auto Ltd. (BAL) he delighted millions of Indians who bought Bajaj Chetak scooter and used it for the family and some as means to run their business as auto rickshaw. Those who travelled in the auto rickshaw by paying a fare were also delighted as it saved them time, effort and difficulty. From my perspective he was a Karm Yogi who contributed to the best of his ability in the yagna of manufacturing and selling scooters. That was his ahuti. The benefits of this yagna were widely distributed to all customers and users besides employees, suppliers, distributors, service centres, society and the shareholders. I believe his greatest contribution was to set an example of doing business based on universal principles of Intellectual Honesty (Satyam) respect for humanity (Ahimsa), and self-discipline (Brahmcharya) that are incidentally the three pillars of Indian philosophy that has lasted for thousands of years. Rahul lived the legacy of his grandfather Shri Jamuna Lal Bajaj. It was not easy to stick to these principles in an era of regulated economy. As Rahul’s soul has departed from his mortal remains it is time to celebrate his life and contribution. My pranam (salute) to Rahul Bajaj’s departed soul for showing the countrymen that it is possible to run a business and succeed without compromising with basic values. I am stating this on the basis of my personal experience as I had the good fortune to interact with Rahul on many occasions as a professional. Let me narrate my experience that is the basis of my statements above.
There was a time when I used to meet Rahul Baja often at the Executive Council Meetings of Association of Indian Engineering Industry (AIEI) now known as Confederation of India Industry (CII) from 1983 to 1992. This was when I was the Chairman of the Engineering Services Committee of AIEI and CII from 1983 to 1988 and then as an advisor to CII until 1992. In a way I was involved in promoting quality movement in India when I was working in a private enterprise at Nashik and later in Delhi. Rahul as past president of AIEI provided full support to the quality movement by taking personal interest as he was a believer in quality as evidenced by the scooters made by Baja Auto. Rahul in a way was instrumental in my movement from Nashik to Delhi for personal reasons by providing me an opportunity to be the Chief Executive of one of the small companies of the Bajaj Group. After leaving CII in 1992 I met Rahul only once even though I followed with great interest his contribution to the nation.
Rahul Bajaj has been an illustrious National Leader of India first and then a Business Leader. His contribution to nation building is greater than being a business leader. Of course, without doubt Rahul was one of the most successful business leaders of not only his time but I dare say since Impendence of India. It is difficult to compare leaders of that generation when they had to do business in India with hands tied behind their backs. Let me share a narrative not real but almost real. I can narrate it as I have lived through that period and worked in industry for 25 years and then as a consultant for 38 years. Current business leaders who have been successful in post liberalisation era after 1992 and more particularly in this millennium will find it difficult to imagine the constraints for business in regulated era. Let me share an example.
There was a waiting period of 7 to 8 years sometimes even longer for ‘Chetak scooter’ produced by Bajaj Auto. There was a saying when a child was born first thing parents did was to book a Bajaj Chetak scooter with the hope when the son comes of age he will have a scooter or if a daughter, the scooter would be available to be presented at her wedding. There were others who booked a scooter as an investment. When they received it after many years it could fetch double the price in the open market. It is to Rahul Bajaj’s credit he did not take advantage of the situation by raising price of scooter. There are not many examples of this nature. A true example of intellectual honesty. Incidentally Baja had a competitor in Lambretta a leading Italian make. Baja Auto was also one of the most profitable companies due its focus on quality and cost.
However, I believe what is more important is the following narrative, not necessarily real but almost true. In spite of such shortages Bajaj Auto Ltd. (BAL) produced 110,000 (not exact figure but an example to share this story) scooters in a year while the licensed capacity was 100,000. BAL was called by the Monopolies and Restricted Trade Practices Commission (MRTPC) to explain why they exceeded the licensed capacity. BAL replied that it was to satisfy customers who have been waiting in the queue for many years. MRTPC declared BAL has violated the law of the land by doing so and satisfying the customers. In other words how dare you satisfy customers by producing more than the licensed capacity. BAL stated they improved productivity to produce more with the same resources, thereby reducing cost. Again, MRTPC stated this is a violation of national law to improve productivity to produce more than the licensed capacity. In other words companies got fined for satisfying customers and improving productivity. Then we wonder why Indian industry could not be export competitive. Of course one could seek license for additional capacity from the Government authorities. However approval was often not forthcoming unless one is willing to compromise. It was easy to fall into the trap of making money due to shortages. Rahul did not fall into such traps while upholding universal values.
BAL is one of the exceptional companies that export about 50% of their production from India. This is a testimony to the quality of their products and services. Rahul was able to achieve all this because of his ability to carry everyone with him with humility and by setting personal example. That included BAL employees, suppliers and the distributors.
While we have lost Rahul Bajaj a professional of such eminence we get solace that he contributed in motivating many others to follow his path. The legacy Lives on.
Past President and Honorary Member of the International Academy for Quality.
Past Chairperson and Honorary Director of the Asian Network for Quality.
Founding President and the current President of the Indian Society for Quality.
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