It was the most unlikely venue and the most unlikely gathering for the most important political question of the times. No wonder the question is still resonating all around, all over the country. Saturday evening at the ET Awards ceremony, where the who’s who of the Indian corporate world had converged, Rahul Bajaj, the 81-year-old doyen of Indian industry, stood up to ask Home Minister Amit Shah a question, which was actually a statement: ‘When the UPA-II was in power we could abuse anyone. You are doing good work, yet we don’t have the confidence that you will appreciate it if we openly criticise you.’ Bajaj was speaking for India Inc, the way only he could do it. And he was loudly cheered by the audience.
Rahul Bajaj, the grandson of Jamnalal Bajaj, whom Gandhi called his fifth son, wasn’t merely talking about the atmosphere of fear created by ‘tax terrorism’ allegedly unleashed by enforcement agencies against a select-few industrialists or politicians like P Chidambaram. His was a public-spirited intervention against the ruling party’s promotion of individuals like Pragya Thakur and the government’s will or lack of it in securing punishment for lynch mobsters. Bajaj, who turned his Rs 7.2-crore company into a Rs 12,000-crore behemoth, building the world’s fourth largest three and two-wheeler manufacturer, is not among the crony capitalists who have made fortunes riding political waves that create benami billionaires. His company had made one of the most enduring brands in the history of corporate India and had made the advertisement punchline, ‘Hamara Bajaj’, a veritable byword for consumer satisfaction for a generation. His words carry the weight of history, success and wisdom.
Shah listened carefully to Bajaj and responded appropriately, even turning the logic upside down, pointing out that Bajaj could say this only because there is no atmosphere of fear. That is not enough. The low GDP growth numbers also indicate that something is terribly wrong with the business environment, which needs urgent repair. And the government has to address former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s concerns about the ‘palpable climate of fear’ resulting in the slowdown.