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A lesson from JRD

Ratan Tata should have taken a leaf out of JRD’s book. He should have impressed upon the protesters at Singur that the car factory would not go against their interests, writes VBN Ram.

india Updated: Mar 25, 2009 22:05 IST
V.B.N. Ram

The nano’s arrival unlocked a 37-year-old memory. In 1972, J.R.D. Tata was addressing the students and faculty of XLRI, Jamshedpur, where I was a student. His address was about ‘how an individual and a system could avoid failures’. JRD stated that an individual, while being oblivious of small oversights and pitfalls, should relentlessly pursue his dream.

That seems to be exactly what Nano’s launch has proven for Ratan Tata.

“When matters have deviated from a chosen course, a mid-course correction is called for,” the grand patriarch of the Tata group had said. Here again, my mind wanders to the Mamata Banerjee-mustered obstacle at Singur that was posed before Ratan Tata. He sought and found an alternate location.

JRD recounted one of his meetings with Prime Minister Indira Gandhi. Around that time the Tata group was planning to venture into deep-sea fishing and was seeking government clearance for the import of state-of-the-art deep-sea fishing trawlers. Much like the protests of Singur farmers, the fishermen’s unions had made vociferous protests to the government, pleading with it to stall the entry of large business houses into what was then the exclusive preserve of small fishermen.

JRD’s meeting with Mrs Gandhi gave him the impression that the lady would run his ideas aground. All through the meeting, JRD was waxing eloquent with his sales talk, while Mrs Gandhi was looking out of the window. JRD told Mrs Gandhi that deep-sea fishing could never be at the cost of small-time fishermen as the deep-sea was a turf that wasn’t for the fishermen.

Perhaps this last message could have also been relayed by Ratan Tata to the farmers of Singur about keeping their turfs apart. But in any case, neither JRD nor Ratan Tata managed to drive this message across.