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Home > Business > Columnists > Guest Column > Sheela Bhatt


Thank you, Mr Tata, for thinking of the common man!

January 11, 2008

Mr Ratan Tata, thank you very much!

You have created history, not because you have created the cheapest car in the world but because you have touched our emotions, our hearts. Thanks a million.

For more than 900 million Indians, who live ordinary lives, this is a rare moment when they feel like they are being taken care of by the rich and the mighty class.

Your class, I mean the others who are amongst the richest Indians, must be feeling a little squeamish today as they saw the overwhelming coverage of you unveiling your pretty car in the Indian press and on television.

Frankly, the best part of your endeavour is that you have taken terrific care to make sure that your car does not resemble a superior version of a Bajaj autorickshaw. That would have made us feel humiliated. Instead, you have done it with style, and class. Thanks again.

The stock exchange might not reacted favourably to your history-making venture, but that is also the proof that Tata Nano is not just about money. It's about profits along with creating a great product.

Very soon the Bajajs and the Munjals, the Japanese and the Koreans will also realize this. We are told that you may be making a humble profit of only Rs 4,000 per Tata Nano, but life in globalization is about ideas plus profit.

In one single stroke you have created a new class within the Indian society. Overnight, my canteen manager Sitaram-ji, my driver's elderly father who is a retired army man, my grocery supplier Mr Arora, and all such nice people with decent but limited income can start dreaming.

That's wow! Really!

Till the 1990s, Indians were striving for roti, kapda, makan, water and roads. Then, the desires expanded. Consumerism started to find a foothold in the country, but glitzy acquisitions were still within the reach of only the fairly well heeled.

But, now, I cannot but be amused as I visualize a supervisor stepping out of his Alto-deluxe and his salesman disembarking from his Tata Nano for an informal meeting at a Barista outlet.

As expected, Bajaj Auto Ltd [Get Quote] managing director Rajiv Bajaj talked about profits the other day. He said: "We have seen the car (Tata Nano) and it looks good, but I haven't heard them (the Tatas) say that it will be profitable."

No one can be so off the mark. To be an industrialist in the new economy is not to be a new zamindar. It is about inclusive growth without losing out on innovation, technology and growth.

Mr Tata, you have given shape to our secret desires. In all seriousness, India's hyper-energetic middle class and the impatient poor who want to break into the upper economic layer salutes you today. You have accomplished what CPI (M) general secretary Prakash Karat -- with his bagful of idealism -- could not do, or what Prime Minister Manmohan Singh -- with his five-page-long qualifications as an ace economist -- could not do, and what all Karl Marx-quoting hypocrites could not dream of doing.

Tata Nano is the great symbol of Indian-ishtyle socialism. This is socialism suited for the 21st century. As a nano favour, Karat should write a letter to the United Progressive Alliance government recommending you for the Bharat Ratna because by thinking so big on behalf of those smiling and struggling Indians travelling awkwardly on unreliable two- or three-wheelers, you have given us something to boast about.

For the first time, our favourite pro-people activist and Centre for Science and Environment director Sunita Narain looked out of sync on TV on Thursday when she talked about congestion, pollution and the other inherent problems 'caused by' the auto industry.

Right now, there are about five million cars and 70 million two-three wheelers on Indian roads. In the coming five years there might not be more than 500,000 Tata Nanos in the Indian market, but there will certainly be 500,000 ordinary Indian families enjoying a safer ride in their own four-wheeler.

The entire Nano event is important from only one point of view. We are taught that social democracy is all about the majority of people having an equitable share of the resources of the nation. Water, land, metals, food and roads -- every basic requirement for living should be distributed in such a manner that more and more people reap the benefits. Since the last 60 years the rich who constitute a single digit percent of the population had all the roads to themselves except for the footpath.

"Yeh road tere baap ka hai?" is the common aggressive sentence ordinary pedestrians heard from insensitive car drivers. Yes, the road should be more the property of the common people of India, but those who can afford Marutis, Hondas and Skodas wrongly think that they should be given the right of way by pedestrians on wretched Indian roads. Yes, road common people ke baap ka hai, this is what Tata Nano is shouting from the rooftops. For that we are so happy, Mr Tata.

Creating roads was a capital-intensive development and took away a large share of the planned budget and ended up helping the rich and upper class much, much more. Huge chunks of land were taken away to build highways and expressways, but 80 per cent of people living around them have no use for them because they simply cannot afford the cars or even autorickshaws to drive on them.

People without cars had to struggle to have their share of the roads. The most shocking fact is that when the New Delhi government built a magnificent cluster of flyovers near the All India Institute of Medical Sciences, it simply forgot that there will be many people on foot too! Only after UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi inaugurated it were some amendments made.

It's so difficult to walk or even cycle in cities. Tata Nano is important from the point of view of having a piece of the pie of the national asset called 'road.' So far, only the rich could boast of driving on roads and highways.

But now the 'other class' will enter. Sunita Narain's argument about pollution and congestion is first class but it comes at a wrong time and at the wrong place because it is a general argument applicable to all and mainly to Central government which is bereft of ideas on development.

The real reason behind the euphoria caused by the Tata Nano is the negligence of mass-transit systems in India since decades. Every ordinary Indian has his or her tale to share about how they have suffered in jam-packed and rickety state transport buses, how they are crushed in Mumbai local trains, and how elderly people dread travelling by any means of public transport.

It is a national shame to see the way women, children and the elderly travel in Mumbai's local trains, but no government or industrialist thinks about putting their act together to help more than 4 to 5 million people even when Mumbai is reaching a breaking point.

For the first time, the Kolkata and Delhi metro rails gave 'respect' to the common man's need for better transport.

We would like to believe that Tata Nano is a symbolic gesture to bring the common Indian in national focus. If India had better public transport, we would not have given a rousing welcome to Tata Nano.

By the way, in Ratan Tata's mother tongue Gujarati, 'nano' means small.

Tata Nano, world's cheapet car: Complete Coverage




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