THE RETIREMENT WITH EFFECT FROM MAY 1 of Rahul Bajaj (RB) from his exalted position as chairman and chief executive of Bajaj Auto Ltd (BAL), marks the end of an era of combative, bare-knuckled, me-first capitalism in Indian industry. As founding editor of Business India and later Businessworld, your correspondent was well-acquainted with RB and wrote several eulogistic cover features narrating the spectacular market dominance of BAL boosting the company’s market cap manifold.
Soon after he returned to India from the Harvard Business School in the 1960s, RB manipulated the ouster of H.K. Firodia, a talented engineer and CEO of BAL who built the scooters factory in Pune. This was a breach of faith because at the time, the Bajaj and Firodia families were equal, joint promoters of Bajaj Auto and Bajaj Tempo Ltd (BTL), the latter a company manufacturing light commercial vehicles in collaboration with the blue-chip Mercedes Benz, Germany.
After Ramkrishna Bajaj, his Gandhian uncle passed away in 1994, Rahul set about persuading Mercedes Benz, the majority shareholder in BTL to dump the Firodias and ally with him. Fortunately, the German company rejected his blandishments and BTL has since changed its name to Force 10 and has prospered modestly.
In the heyday of licence-permit-quota raj, using his inherited political clout with various Congress governments at the Centre and close friendship with party heavyweight Sharad Pawar, RB ensured that despite the huge demand-supply gap, any competitor who forayed into the Indian automotive two wheelers market was given a restricted manufacturing licence. As a result in the early 1970s, the wait-listed period for a Bajaj scooter rose to 14 years. However, the BAL monopoly was broken in the mid- 1980s when the Punjab-based Hero Cycles was licensed to manufacture automotive scooters in collaboration with Honda Motors, Japan.
Years later when your correspondent launched EducationWorld and wrote to RB to discharge his IOUs by way of small change advertising support, this greedy tycoon refused point blank. India Inc is certain to benefit now that this practitioner of ugly capitalism has called it a day.