Limited leaders

The recent demise in Delhi of Brij Mohan Lal Munjal, chairman of Hero MotorCorp Ltd — the country’s largest producer of automotive two wheelers (6.63 million units in the year ended March 31, 2015) — marks the end of an era of the two-wheeler manufacturing industry in India. It’s pertinent to note that right until the mid-1980s, the entire production of automotive two-wheelers (scooters mainly manufactured by the Pune-based Bajaj Auto Ltd) aggregated 500,000 units. In 1984, the Jalandhar (Punjab)-based Hero Cycles, promoted by the Munjal family which claimed to be the world’s largest cycles manufacturer, signed a historic collaboration agreement with Honda Motors, Japan to jointly manufacture automotive two-wheelers. When Hero Honda Motors went into production a year later, it sparked a demand explosion for motorcycles which within a few years overwhelmed the scooter manufacturing industry, and almost wiped out Bajaj Auto.

Shortly after the Hero Honda collaboration agreement was signed, a 15-strong delegation of press personnel — including your correspondent, then editor of Businessworld — was invited by Hero Honda to visit the massive Hamamatsu motor-cycles manufacturing plant of Honda Motors in Japan. Despite the ill-behaved Indian press party lapping up the lavish hospitality of Honda Motors in Japan, most of them wrote forgettable, desultory descriptions of the mind-boggling technology and productivity of the Japanese company where fully-ready mobikes were assembled in five minutes. Except your editor who wrote a detailed 12-page cover story titled ‘Honda is Coming!’ However this effort earned your correspondent the wrath of Rahul Bajaj, the self-absorbed chairman of Bajaj Auto. A decade later when EducationWorld was launched and floundering in shallow waters, Bajaj who had sworn eternal friendship earlier, refused point-blank to lend a helping hand, despite his persistent lip service to education initiatives.

Unsurprisingly, neither did Munjal who had issued numerous IOUs after the BW cover story gave Hero Honda Motors a flying start. Both these captains of India Inc were unfortunately too limited to appreciate that “greater than the tread of mighty armies, is the power of an idea whose time has come”.

Colonised mind-sets

Although the pompous mediocrities of imperial Great Britain who by accident rather than design, ruled the Indian subcontinent for almost two centuries before they were outmanouevred by the famous naked fakir (Mahatma Gandhi) and sent packing 68 years ago, they managed to colonise the minds of third world English-speaking native elites with much greater success than they were able to subjugate the natives. Even seven decades later, large sections of the country’s English speaking public seem enamoured with colonial value premises and prejudices.

In mid-November several mainstream dailies and magazines published the result of a poll conducted by People, a British magazine, according to which footballer David Beckham is the world’s “handsomest man”. Moreover radio jockeys of FM channels shameless in their adulation of Western mores and men, went to town proclaiming this self-serving news tidbit of People. Yet an examination of several photographs of Beckham indicates a pallid individual whose hair is barely distinguishable, and in desperate need of a suntan.

Yet within elite Indian circles, there’s casual acceptance of Western norms of looks and deportment, and lazy failure to develop ethnic pride. Undoubtedly, Bollywood and its regional clones which cast bizarre Caucasian look-alikes in lead roles in cinema and/or paint Indians white, are the worst offenders. But slavish worship of nondescript grey mediocrities dressed up by the billion dollar Western fashion and cosmetic industries as the glass in which Indians should fashion themselves, is proof of a still-colonised mindset.

The unprepossessing grey men who manage Unilever Plc in London and Amsterdam whose Indian subsidiary produces and extensively advertises Fair and Lovely, this country’s #1 skin lightening cream, are sure to be laughing all the way to their banks.

Piketty’s conundrum

Paris-based economist Thomas Piketty currently being feted at literary festivals in Delhi and Mumbai, but whose monumental book Capital (2013) has typically received insufficient attention, is likely to be appalled. 

One wonders what this economist whose book has prompted considerable soul-searching in the Western world, will make of the award of India’s Seventh Pay Commission which has recommended that the basic pay of Central government employees be raised by 260 percent from Rs.7,000 per month to Rs.18,000 (myriad perks apart). In sharp contrast, the nation’s farmers according to Ajay Vir Jakhar writing in the Economic Times (November 24), earn an average of Rs.3,000 monthly. 

Curiously, despite it being well-known that India’s venal bureaucracy is the greatest stumbling block to national development, there’s no shortage of eminent economists who support the huge unconditional pay rise to the country’s public servants on the grounds that higher emoluments are necessary to attract high-grade talent into the civil services. Shockingly, few if any of these intellectuals have any suggestions about linking their huge pay hikes to productivity or retraining and redeploying the thousands of class D clerks, bearers and chaprasis swarming government offices into the public health and education sectors facing massive personnel shortages.

Just how flagrantly taxpayers’ funds are misused is evidenced by a Right to Information Act reply in Bangalore where Vajubhai Valla, governor of Karnataka, is served by a cyclist, nine bearers, seven dhobies, four cooks, six butlers, five masseurs and eight khalasis (“to repair utensils”) adding up to a monthly bill of Rs.30 lakh to enable him to discharge his ceremonial duties (New Sunday Express, November 22). Typically, India’s head-in-the-sand intellectuals have little to say about such grassroots realities.