Walchand Hirachand: Celebrating the 'Father of transportation in India'

Known for flexibility and innovative spirit, Walchand Hirachand Doshi was never afraid to take up challenges. His entrepreneurship in shipping, aviation and automobiles earned him the title ‘Father of transportation in India’

FPJ Web DeskUpdated: Thursday, April 07, 2022, 03:31 PM IST
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Walchand Hirachand Doshi |

Known as the man who established India’s first ever shipping yard, Walchand Hirachand Doshi was a prominent Indian industrialist. He was the founder of the grand Walchand group as well.

Apart from the shipyard, he also gave the first car as well as the first aircraft factory to the nation. Many construction companies, engineering companies and various other businesses were his establishments.

Walchand Hirachand Doshi was born on 23rd November, 1882, at Sholapur in a well known family active in the field of commerce, politics and religion.

However, Walchand lost his mother within fifteen days of his birth. Seth Hirachand, his father, took great inierest in the up bringing of his children. Being a staunch and devout Jain, he attached supreme importance to self-denial. He inculcated a spirit of service, devotion to religion, duty, and society in his children.

It was in this atmosphere, that Walchand imbibed the spirit of self reliance, self-confidence, and ceaseless work.

He passed his matriculation examination in 1899 from Sholapur and joined his father's business in Bombay. His keen interest in studies led him to complete his Intermediate from St. Xavier's College.

He was impressed by the works of great national. leaders like Dadabhai Navroji, Justice M. G. Ranade. Raobahadur G. V. Joshi and R. C Dutt. It awakened this keenly inteligent man to the government's one sided and unfair policies of keeping India solely as a supplier of raw materials. In fact, Walchund's mind was nourished by the works of Justice Ranade. The same was to shape the future events of his life.

He was not interested in the traditional family business of cotton trade. So he became a railway contractor for the construction-related jobs. The man was known for his ambition and hardworking nature. People referred him as a guy who wanted to run even before learning to walk. What came as a lucid fact is that, despite very nominal business background, Walchand Hirachand Doshi ran several projects and they all were a booming success. He was a proficient man when it came to meeting deadlines, managing the manpower and raising funds as well.

Opposing the control of the government in some project aspects, Walchand Hirachand Doshi started his own shipyard. Later he went on giving India its first aircraft factory, he knew the potential of mass communication media, hence went on developing mass media means. This helped him to gain public support for his projects.

Walchand along with Annie Besant and M. R. Jayakar together were the first sponsors of pioneering national news agency, the Free Press of India founded in 1927. Walchand was among the early and active supporters of Indian National Congress along with other stalwarts of Indian industry and funded many of its activities.

In 1930, various merchant bodies of Bombay under presidency of Walchand passed a resolution for immediate release of Mahatma Gandhi but again in 1931, it was Walchand, who on behalf of Indian Merchants' Chamber demanded from Gandhi that they were not happy with Gandhi–Irwin Pact and demanded protection of Indian industries.

Again in 1933 Walchand sent a deputation on behalf of Indian Merchants' Chamber to Gandhi to persuade him to call off Civil Disobedience Movement in interest of trade and commerce. He was also a signatory to Bombay Manifesto dated 26 May 1936, which opposed the socialist and Marxist ideas of Jawaharlal Nehru.

His legacy remains important. By 1947, when India became independent, the Walchand group of companies was one of the ten largest business houses in the country.

The first Indian ship SS Loyalty made its maiden international voyage on 5 April 1919 by sailing from Mumbai to London. Walchand Hirachand was personally present on the ship.

After India became independent, 5 April has been declared the National Maritime Day to honour that voyage.

While Walchand pioneered a role for India in several industries, his dependence on excessive leverage and nationalisation seem to have taken the sheen off his contributions. The car factory, while the first in India, trailed the Birlas' Hindustan Motors in terms of market share.

Walchandnagar Industries Limited, located at Walchandnagar, an industrial township near Pune is today a strategic defence and nuclear equipments manufacturing company. Absence of direct male heirs may also have had a role in the nature of the businesses left behind by him.

For Walchand, industry was probably not just a place to make money but also to have adventure.

For example, a visit to Hollywood inspired him to construct a huge studio now known as Walchand Studio in India for which he was earlier in talks with the famous Bollywood producer-director V. Shantaram without a tangible result.

However, for years to come, he would probably be remembered as the man who dared to dream and was able to materialise most of his dreams into reality by his steadfastness and willpower. During his lifetime, he started several charitable trusts, to look after several and also establish new educational institutions, boarding house and carry on other philanthropic works and sponsorships.

As Walchand Hirachand died without any heirs, his business is now run by descendants of his brothers like Gulabchand Hirachand, Lalchand Hirachand, Ratanchand Hirachand, who worked together till they were alive.

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