Sanjay Gandhi, son of Former Prime Minister Indira Gandhi and grandson of Jawaharlal Nehru, has always garnered mixed emotions. While some love him for his practicality and decisiveness, others dislike him for his rebellious and destructive behaviour. After studying at the Welham Boys’ School and the Doon School in Dehra Dun, he took up automotive engineering as a career and underwent an apprenticeship with Rolls-Royce in England for three years in 1964. In 1966, in the second year, he returned to India with the ‘People’s Car’ dream, a car that middle-class could afford. In a small workshop in Gulabi Bagh in Delhi, he began to work on a prototype with few of his associates. Since Sanjay had Indira Gandhi’s back, in 1970 her cabinet proposed the production of cars affordable for the common man. And thus began the journey of ‘Maruti Cars’.
On June 4, 1971, ‘Maruti Motors Limited’ was incorporated under the Companies Act and Sanjay Gandhi became its first Managing Director. Neither Sanjay nor the company had any prior experience when it came to building cars. The Congress government awarded the contract to manufacture 50,000 cars per year. The decision received several criticisms but the ongoing 1971 Bangladesh Liberation War silenced everything. Later, Former Chief Minister of Haryana, Bansi Lal offered his 290 acres land in Gurgaon to set up a plant. Traders, banks and business groups were approached for funds. A test model was created and unveiled in November 1972 but was criticised by the people.
Sanjay was confident and claimed that the within few months the company would manufacture the first batch of cars. He got in touch with the Germany-based Volkswagen AG to manufacture an Indian version of the Beetle in India. Following the anti-corruption drive led by the opposition, Sanjay moved his focus to politics. The Emergency was imposed in 1975. The Maruti project was put of halt and later shut down in 1977 after the Janata Government came to power. On June 23, 1980, Sanjay lost his life in an air crash near Safdarjung airport in New Delhi.
In 1980, Indira Gandhi returned to power and on her request, the Union government restored Maruti Limited. And thus began a search for an active collaborator for a new company. The Japanese company Suzuki was contacted for the project. The company presented a feasible design of ‘Model 796’, a successful model in Japan and East Asian countries. The company manufactured India’s first People’s Car – ‘Maruti 800’.