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Success recipe of Tata, Wipro and Cipla

Last updated on: May 08, 2014 11:48 IST

Success recipe of Tata, Wipro and Cipla

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Kanika Datta

 

Economic liberalisation and exposure to greater global competition are creating a relatively equal opportunities business environment in India. 

The major promoter of India’s largest private corporate group would be hard put to trace his origins to India.

Yet Ratan Tata, despite the fact that his community has its provenance in Persia in the misty past, is unlikely to describe, or indeed think of, himself as anything other than Indian.

The group’s signature overseas acquisitions during his tenure added lustre to the reputation of India, not Iran, and it was to his group’s specifically

Indian antecedents that an American dealer of Jaguar Land Rover and the board of Orient-Express Hotels made oblique, derogatory references.

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Image: Ratan Tata, Chairman Emeritus of Tata Sons (right) seen with Cyrus Mistry, chairman, Tata Sons.
Photographs: Reuters

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Kanika Datta

Yet, strictly, neither he nor his distant relative and successor, Cyrus Mistry, who is part-Irish to boot, should be conducting business in India, if anyone is to believe unabashed saffron-tinged nationalism unleashed by a succession of thuggish politicians in this prolonged election for the 16th Lok Sabha.   

By these same standards, another distant Tata relative and promoter of well-entrenched Indian brand names like Bombay Dyeing, Britannia and, more recently, GoAir, may have even less locus standi to run businesses in India.

Like the Tatas, Nusli Wadia traces his father’s roots to latter-day Iran and his mother’s to, heaven forbid!, Pakistan as the grandson of the founder of that state, Muhammad Ali Jinnah.

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Image: Britannia as a brand is a name to reckon with.
Photographs: Courtesy, Britannia Industires

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Kanika Datta

And should Shombit Sengupta, the maverick and hugely entertaining promoter of strategy firm Shining Consulting, jettison his successful Bangalore base forthwith if the ruling dispensation on Raisina Hill turns saffron, as everyone is confidently predicting?

Sure, Mr Sengupta was born in Kolkata but to a refugee family from then East Pakistan (modern Bangladesh).

This is the country that India fought a war to bring into being. But no matter, it was a consistent target of the Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP’s) xenophobic attentions even during the A B Vajpayee government.   

And where does this shade of political thought leave, say, businessmen like Yusuf Hamied and Habil Khorakiwala, promoters of reputed pharmaceutical companies Cipla and Wockhardt respectively,

Azim Premji of the profitable and philanthropic Wipro group, or the promoters of Hamdard, practitioners of an indigenous Iranian medical system (Unani) with branches in Pakistan and Bangladesh?

Should they, too, quit India if they are unable or unwilling to acknowledge their “Hindu” origins?

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Image: Wipro has presence in global markets.
Photographs: Punit Paranjpe/Reuters

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Kanika Datta

From our current vantage point of plurality and freedom, such an extreme endgame sounds absurd and unthinkable because these businesses are reputed not just in India but globally too.

And Narendra Modi, the man of the moment, combines his muscular Hindu nationalism with a credo of “development” that is said to be business-friendly and free market in orientation.

Why, Mr Tata even fulsomely praised Mr Modi (with good reason, in the context in which he spoke) as “the Good M” when the populist antics of the “Bad M”, Mamata Banerjee, drove his pet car project out of Bengal.  

None of the others mentioned above has, however, commented publicly on the BJP’s prime ministerial candidate, even though many powerful businesspeople have gone out of their way to stamp their approval on Mr Modi.

Asked to choose between the Rahul Gandhi and Narendra Modi models of governance at a Wipro results conference last month, Mr Premji wisely declined to comment.

As he explained with wry humour, he knew his answer would dwarf the headlines over the company’s results the next day.

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Image: The Tata Group had to shift its Nano car plant from West Bengal to Gujarat due to political tension.
Photographs: Courtesy, Tata Motors

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Equally, none of these businesses has been intimidated for not being “Indian” or “Hindu” or both. And it is also true that Mr Modi has never suggested the annihilation of non-Hindu businesses during his election campaign.

It is the tacit signal that matters, though, and the encouragement that the saffron bully boys draw from it.

This is already ominously in evidence from Pravin Togadia’s antics in Bhavnagar to the persecution of Muslim migrants in Assam.

So even if the Ciplas and Wipros flourish under an expected saffron regime, it is the hundreds of small, tiny and medium enterprises run by Muslims or non-Hindus, with little recourse to the security apparatus of the state as we saw in the Bombay riots of 1993, that could well feel threatened.  

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Image: Pharma firms like Cipla are doing good business in global markets.
Photographs: Babu/Reuters

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Now, this is India with all its sprawling, lively diversity, where economic liberalisation and exposure to greater global competition are creating a relatively equal opportunities business environment.

The process is agonisingly slow, of course — there are still prominent business houses that informally disqualify women or people from minority communities or certain castes from their hiring plans.

But you only have to compare the business environment today with that of the seventies to sense the social change.

And business, like sports, movies or science, flourishes best in a free, safe, plural environment. 

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Image: Indian business houses are creating equal opportunities for all.
Photographs: Hannibal Hanschke/Reuters
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Who knows how many potential Ciplas, Wockhardts, Wipros or even Tatas India may unwittingly forfeit if people from minority communities feel impelled to take their business elsewhere to escape authoritarian majoritarianism, for which many Indians appear to be yearning.

If anything, the examples of Messrs Hitler, Mao and Putin suggest that “strong” one-dimensional leaders can sometimes be a country’s biggest weakness.

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Image: Wipro campus in Bangalore.
Photographs: Punit Paranjpe/Reuters

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