Hamara Bajaj rides into sunset

Sanjay Jog | Updated on: Sunday, February 13, 2022, 08:42 AM IST


A father figure in Indian industry and the head of the Bajaj group, Rahul Bajaj, passed away at the age of 83 on Saturday. A businessman with spunk who spoke fearlessly to powers that be, he breathed his last at his home in Pune.

Bajaj, who stood down from his position of non-executive director and chairman of Bajaj Auto on April 30 last year, was not keeping well for some time.

The industrialist’s mortal remains will be brought to Akurdi plant in Pune on Sunday at 11.30 am for darshan. Cremation will take place at 4.30 pm in Vaikunth crematorium in Pune, company officials said.

Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray said the country had lost a nationalist industrialist and announced that Bajaj would be cremated with state honours.

The original ‘Make in India’ champion is survived by two sons, Rajiv and Sanjiv, and a daughter Sunaina Kejriwal. The former Bajaj Auto chairman was currently the emeritus of the Bajaj conglomerate. He was awarded the Padma Bhushan in 2001.

Under his stewardship, Bajaj Auto saw its turnover jump from Rs 7.2 crore to Rs 12,000 crore with the firm's scooters becoming the mainstay of the industry. Bajaj Chetak became an aspirational symbol for the middleclass and the 'Humara Bajaj' jingle was a manifestation of their hopes for a better future. He was not only outspoken but a harsh critic of the successive governments for the re-tape, regulatory interruptions and procedural delays. In nutshell, a bold, fearless and proud Indian who built a world-class enterprise. Sharing his grief, Nationalist Congress Party supremo Sharad Pawar said he had lost a close friend, while the country had lost an industrialist, a philanthropist and a ‘lighthouse’ for young entrepreneur.

Bajaj often spoke up against the government of the day or the ruling party -- be it the BJP or the Congress. He preferred to freely air his views while the rest of the industry preferred to simply toe the government line. He was equally uncharitable in his views about the Modi government.

In the presence of Union ministers Amit Shah and Piyush Goyal, Bajaj, in December 2019, had said that ‘‘people in India are fearful of speaking against the Narendra Modi government and I am not certain if the government can accept criticism in the right spirit.’’

He also questioned Amit Shah on the environment of fear and suppression of freedom of speech under the Modi government. He believed that people should have the freedom to criticize the government, but the current regime had created an “environment of fear and uncertainty.”

Bajaj was also critical of the government’s black money law and said it was enacted with a vengeance. “I think the drafting has been done with a clear presumption, which I feel, I can’t say for the whole group. I have no sympathy for people who did that.

So, this has been done with a vengeance,” he noted. Bajaj also took on BJP MP Pragya Thakur, who had raised a storm in Parliament with her remark on MK Gandhi’s assassin Nathuram Godse. ‘‘Is there a doubt who shot Gandhi? I don’t know,” he commented.

Bajaj also referred to Modi’s reaction to Pragya Thakur’s earlier reference to Godse as a ‘deshbhakt’, saying “the prime minister had said it would be very difficult for him to forgive her. But she was brought into the consultative committee (on defence) later,” he said.

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Published on: Sunday, February 13, 2022, 08:42 AM IST