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Tata’s Singur lesson for Britons

world Updated: May 24, 2011 01:37 IST
Dipankar De Sarkar

With remarkable alacrity, Mamata Banerjee has shown the green light to Ratan Tata in West Bengal. And the man himself has written to Didi congratulating her on the green sweep.

But when the tycoon took over the British carmakers Jaguar Land Rover in 2008 he spoke only of how his group was made to flee the state. Tata told The Times newspaper he gave the example of the violent protests in Singur to help familiarise JLR managers with the can-do approach of their new owners.

“I asked the JLR management: what would you do if you built a plant in the UK which is 85 percent complete and then you have dead bodies thrown on your site; you have 100,000 people at the gates saying they will never allow a single car to move out?” Tata said.

Whether his British managers managed to keep a stiff upper lip I don’t know — they would have been scared witless by such events happening on their doorsteps.

Ratan Tata continued: “And then your chairman took a decision, we’ll move the factory. And, in the dead of the night, you had to start taking tools out of that factory, build another factory, deliver a car from an interim factory, and do all this in a year.

“The first thing that you will say: it can’t be done, that you would need a court order or police protection or whatever. Yet we did it.”

Now the Tatas have done it once again — and in Britain. JLR are set to post record profits of £1.1 bn, just three years after Tata Motors took it over.

This astounding turnaround — compared to profits of £32 mn last year and a loss of £281 mn in the first 10 months under Tatas — was driven by sales in India, China and other emerging markets.

Back in 2008, Tata’s JLR takeover wasn’t a smooth affair — but, in contrast to the violence of West Bengal, the disputes in Britain were thrashed out across the table, over mugs of tea.