Blog: Dave LeggettBajaj Lite

Dave Leggett | 9 January 2008

Interesting to see Bajaj’s ‘Lite’ concept being unveiled just ahead of Tata’s one lakh. The timing looks even better when you consider that Bajaj will be working with Renault-Nissan on a sub-Logan one-lakh fighter and follows Mahindra’s slight back-pedalling on its manufacturing relationship with R-N.

Rajiv Bajaj’s comments about pricing for a future Bajaj low-cost car appear very considered and beg the question: has Tata boxed itself in a bit with that one lakh moniker? We'll see. But Bajaj’s Lite and Mr Bajaj’s remarks certainly set the scene nicely for the big Tata unveiling later this week.

Incidentally, is Tata really as pure as the driven snow? It's a kind of unspoken working assumption for many; Ratan Tata being seen as a visionary driven by a kind of altruistic desire to improve the lot of the masses and help many off of two wheels and on to four.

An article in the latest Private Eye (I can't link directly to the article here, it's print subscribers only) raised my eyebrows over lunch today (which was leftover takeaway curry, appropriately enough). It's entitled 'Making rupee with Tata'.

There's a throwaway line about Tata's origins in the mid-19th century helping the British to sell opium to the Chinese (history can be murky can't it?), but the article goes on to draw attention to the plight of the 'farmers of Singur' where the one lakh car is being built. It says that the 997-acre site was forcibly acquired from farmers who allege that the compensation offered is half the market value. The article says there has been a big row locally, farmers digging their heels in, and a number of deaths 'since the resistance began' (including a teenage girl raped and strangled by the Tata site's 'security goons'), adding that there are similar cases involving other parts of Tata Group's operations in India, such as Tata Steel (13 protesters shot dead by police at a site earmarked for a Tata Steel pant 'shocking Indian public opinion'). 

The apparent unrest highlights the kinds of pressures that bubble under the surface in places like China and India as they forge ahead with 'progress'. Maybe it's a price to pay for industrial advancement, but I'm a little surprised to read things like that about Tata.

Is Tata Group a kind of benevolent conglomerate and bulwark of corporate social responsibility and cummunity values (as it likes to present itself), or is there something a little darker under the surface? I wonder what the general view of Tata - and other big companies - is in India and to what extent it might diverge from the media take here thus far?

Heck, how much do we really know about the company (and its culture) that might soon be running Jaguar and Land Rover? There again, to put this in context, this is an India-based firm and India is India and undergoing a massive economic transformation. There are bound to be pressure points. Western companies have been known to do dodgy things from time to time, also, to put it mildly. It was ever thus.

But the Private Eye article is a reminder of some of the stresses and strains at work, both in India (or China, for that matter) and in its economy and inside its big companies. As those companies look increasingly outwards and become more international, all aspects of their behaviour will come under greater scrutiny by the international media, not just the domestic media. 

There will be an understandable clamour to know more about the attitudes of those at the top of the new Asian tiger companies investing abroad. Stories like that Tata one, the details all true or not, don't travel well.

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