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Tata vs Chandrasekhar: What corporates say

Last updated on: December 13, 2010 13:23 IST

Tata vs Chandrasekhar: What corporates say

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BS Reporters in Mumbai/ Delhi


In conversations, everyone has a view on the 'open letters' exchanged between businessman-turned-MP Rajeev Chandrasekhar and leading industrialist Ratan Tata. Over lunch at the Bengal Club in Kolkata or at the Chambers at the Taj, while dining at 360's at the Capital or over single malt at India International Centre in Lutyens' Delhi.

Yet, mum's the word from India Inc when one approaches for a quote.

Business Standard got in touch with CEOs and corporate promoters around the countr. Is India Inc shocked? Surprised at the tone and tenor of the letters? Most shied away from a comment, some were diplomatic and only a few were ready for plainspeak.

"The nation is mud-wrestling with pigs and loving it." That's Subroto Bagchi, gardener and vice chairman, MindTree Ltd, for you.

Suresh Neotia, group patriarch of Ambuja Realty, phrases the mood perfectly: "It's too hot a subject to comment, but it shouldn't have broken out like this. The system in India is difficult, but corporates should not indulge in public spats like this. It's not enhancing corporate ethics in any way."

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Image: Tata Group chairman Ratan Tata.
Photographs: Reuters
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"The political and business relationship is not new. It has only come into the open now. Tatas have been away from it, but now they have also got involved in a controversy," says R C Bhargava, chairman of Maruti Suzuki.

"I can only say that I have a lot of sympathy for Ratan," says Venu Srinivasan, chairman and managing director, TVS Motor.

Vocal culture

Tata vs Chandrasekhar. GSM vs CDMA. Ambani vs Ambani. Public spats are hardly uncommon for Indian companies. Telecom has always been polarised.

From FDI ceilings to iron ore exports to aviation laws and land acquisition, contrarian views and off-the-record quips are part of doing business.

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Image: Rajya Sabha member Rajeev Chandrasekhar.
Photographs: Rediff Archive
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The usually reticent Ratan Tata can also be belligerent. "Have you forgotten the four satraps of the group -- Russi Modi, Darbari Seth, Ajit Kerkar and later Dilip Pendse -- and the way RNT took them on? Those battles were very equally public," says a recently retired Tata lifer.

From Singur and Mamata, to Pramod Mahajan and VSNL, Tata's outbursts have grabbed headlines over the years.

So, many are not surprised when Tata dragged the Bharatiya Janata Party and their telecom policy into his public response to Chandrasekhar. "He endorsed Narendra Modi as a potential PM, wrote an open letter to the citizens of West Bengal after he decided to pull out the Nano project from the state," recalls a Mumbai-based CEO.

Swati Piramal, vice chairperson of Piramal Life Sciences, doesn't want to read too much.

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Image: Ratan Tata with Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi.
Photographs: Reuters
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"In a democracy, we all have our views. (But) We have to have a balance. In the end, we all want the industry to grow. We should put aside our personal agenda and think for the nation."

K P Singh, chairman, DLF Group, is more diplomatic. "Perhaps these debates will clean up the system, if there is any problem."

"Nobody is sacred. But it's time to call a spade a spade. To that extent, what Rajeev (Chandrasekhar) is doing is commendable. I agree when he says nobody is or should be a holy cow," said a former head of a leading Indian mobile company, who did not want to be named.

Not black-white

The issues under scrutiny are many. From ethics to privacy. From lack of level playing fields to allegations of creating a smokescreen and hiding the real issues. The reactions are equally mixed.

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Photographs: Reuters
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Most defend Ratan Tata and the group's values and some say truth comes out only the hard way.

S K Birla goes a step further: "Such public spats are unfortunate. But I fully support Tata in his case against the leaking of tapes. One cannot go public with private conversations. If there was something criminal in the content, then it should be fought in court."

Is India, as Ratan Tata said recently, becoming a banana republic? Rahul Bajaj, chairman of the Bajaj Group, disagrees.

"If growth is obstructed for various reasons, corruption continues unabated, citizens' privacy is invaded without adequate reason, then a country with these attributes can be described as a banana republic. However, we have an elected democratic government, free judiciary and free press. For a country of over a billion people, at least 30 per cent of whom live on less than $1 per day, this is no mean achievement."


Photographs: Reuters
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