Rahul Bajaj Former Chairman Of Bajaj Group Died At 83
‘Hamara Bajaj’ was the iconic jingle that resonated with the aspirations of the middle class in a pre-liberalised India. And the man behind that brand was one of the biggest and bravest industrialists — Rahul Bajaj. Rahul Bajaj passed away on February 12, 2022, after being unwell for some time. He was 83. He was known the world over and, of course, in India for being a very successful, ethical, and philanthropic businessman.
Bajaj came from an illustrious business family that took part in our freedom struggle. He pursued his MBA from the prestigious Harvard University, married a lovely woman, Rupa, and had three wonderful children. He was the only member of the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII) who served as an extremely effective president for two terms; he will be remembered for being vocal and making each meeting interesting and fun. He was also a regular visitor to Davos and enjoyed participating in the forum. He was elected to the Rajya Sabha, and always went to the Central Hall to visit his friends whenever he was in Delhi.
For many, Rahul Bajaj’s name was synonymous with the so-called Bombay Club industrialists, who sought a “level-playing field” against multinational companies after the 1991 reforms that slashed import tariffs and liberalised foreign investments. Bajaj Chetak and Bajaj Super scooters had a free run on Indian roads through the1970s and 1980s,with multi-year waiting periods and the nearest lone competitor rival only in name. Bajaj Auto tied up with Kawasaki to manufacture motorcycles in the mid-1980s, along with Hero-Honda and TVS-Suzuki. It also launched a 50cc single-gear Bajaj Sunny in1990, aimed at16-18 year olds who couldn’t handle heavier scooters or bikes. It pained him, though, when his son Rajiv decided to exit the scooter section in 2009. In hindsight, the senior Bajaj may not have been entirely wrong. The erstwhile king of scooters couldn’t partake in the gearless scooter revolution led by the likes of Honda Activa and TVS Jupiter. These targeted individual buyers, particularly women, craving for mobility, unlike the earlier “family” scooter. Rajiv did, however, turn Bajaj Auto into India’s second-biggest and the world’s third largest motorcycle manufacturer. The other son Sanjiv has made Bajaj Finserv in to a leading financial services concern with a market capitalisation even exceeding Bajaj.
Cut to now, and both businesses are doing well long after Rahul Bajaj stopped playing an active role in operations. By doing that Bajaj sought to avoid the generational curse that has visited many Indian business families brought to their knees by feuding scions. After all, he had first-hand experience of the consequences of such a dispute. In 2002, he and his younger brother Shishir who controlled Bajaj Hindustan and held a stake in Bajaj Auto, had a bitter falling out over issues of control. Shishir accused his brother of seeking to oust him from the chairmanship of Bajaj Sevashram, the main holding company of the group.
Rahul Bajaj, at the end of the day, will be remembered as someone who spoke his mind—not only to his son, but also as a Bombay Club member to then finance minister Manmohan Singh and to the present home minister Amit Shah. When he told the latter of the need to create an environment where businessmen could“ openly criticise” the government and still be appreciated, he was voicing a concern that few of his ilk dared express. It was a concern of a man who truly believed in “Make in India”, recognised the importance of adopting global industry best practices, and stuck to his knitting without diversifying into unrelated businesses.