Man With Soaring Vision

JRD Tata towered so high above his peers and predecessors that very few could ever aspire to match him

Is it a bird? Is it a plane? No, it’s the superman. Superman, yes, and no comic book hero at that. This is the story of a man whose vision soared so high that he catapulted an impoverished, colonised country into the forefront of global civil aviation, on the strength of his childhood passion. JRD Tata has been identified variously in the annals of India’s corporate history, towering so high above his peers and predecessors that very few could ever aspire to reach, leave alone catch-up. India’s first and only businessman to be honoured with country’s highest civilian honour, Bharat Ratna, in the twilight years of his life, JRD was a living legend, who presided for well over half-a-century at the helm of India’s biggest industrial empire.

Yet, for his many contributions to industry, science, arts, philanthropy and good corporate governance, no one achievement subsumed his passion for flying as much that he would forever be remembered as the man who put India on the world civil aviation map.

That passion for flying was sown in his childhood. Staying in his family home at Hardelot, on the Channel coast of France, the five-year-old son of a prosperous Indian businessman, Ratanji Tata, and his French wife Sooni, JRD’s interest in flying was kindled by a neighbour, the legendary French aviator Louis Bleriot, who, in 1909, became the first man to fly a plane across the Channel.

“I was hopelessly hooked on aeroplanes and made up my mind that, come what may, one day I would be a pilot.” JRD recalled years later to his biographer R M Lala in Beyond The Last Mountain.

The Aviator

JRD had his early formal exposure to flying in Bombay through the flying instructor, Commander E D Cummings, a pilot in the British Navy. On January 22, 1919, he signed the receipt of his first pilot’s book. And exactly 10 years later, on February 3, 1929, he did his first solo flight in a Gypsy Moth, following it up 16 days later, with a 25-minute solo flight that earned him an aviator’s certificate from the Federation Aeronautique Internationale on behalf of the Royal Aero Club of India and Burma. That certificate was signed by Sir Victor Sassoon in his capacity as chairman of Bombay Flying Club.

“As soon as I became a pilot,” JRD told years later to Khushwant Singh in an interview with The Illustrated Weekly, “I decided that in order to be a good pilot one should be able to perform aerobatics. So on my, own I began looping the loop, diving, spinning. Before trying out these tricks, one should learn how to get in and out of a spin because the pilot’s natural instinct is to do exactly the opposite of what he really should. There was no qualified instructor at our flying club. He (Cummings) never bothered to teach me how to spin. Once, in one of my aerobatic practices, I got myself into a very fast spin and then did not know how to get out of it. Fortunately I recovered simply by remembering what I had read in a book.”

Not long afterwards, JRD proposed to start an airmail service, which was approved by the Indian government after prolonged negotiations. The Tatas had to agree to operate it without any guarantee of mail revenue or subsidy. That was India’s first airline. The air service was inaugurated on October 15, 1932, with a Puss Moth which JRD flew from Karachi to Bombay via Ahmedabad and which his friend and partner Neville Vintcent took over in Bombay for the rest of the flight to Madras via Bellary. Tata Airlines, as it was then called, consisted of one Puss Moth, one Leopard Moth, one wholetime pilot, assisted by Vintcent and JRD, one engineer on part-time basis, two apprentice-mechanics and one palm-thatched shed as the airport.

In the first year of operations, Tata Airlines flew 150,000 miles with unbroken regularity. JRD continued to be the driving force behind every scheme of expansion whether it related to the establishment of a new service or the purchase of new aircraft. JRD attended every detail at Tata Airlines, giving a pat on the back of those who did good work and pulling up those who were sloppy. He recruited Bobby Kooka, who created the famous Maharaja insignia. The Tatas even planned to operate a daily service between Bombay and Calcutta with bigger planes. But they found that the number of people who travelled first class by rail, between the two metropolitan cities, was seldom more than four or five per day. So air travel, which cost more, would have attracted even fewer customers.

In 1946, the Tatas decided that the airline should have a non-proprietary title. Soon after Independence, Tata approached the government with a proposal to extend air services to foreign countries. The government’s view was that its international airline should be in the public sector. “Why not have a joint enterprise?” JRD suggested. He wrote out a memorandum on what was to become the Air-India International, with the government owning 49 per cent of the equity stake, and the right to buy 2 per cent from Tata Sons at anytime so as to get the majority anytime they wanted. Air-India, the domestic airline, would provide the expertise including the crew, training of personnel and the maintenance of aircraft. That was the cheapest way of doing it.

“I got an answer from the government within 15 days, approving of our scheme in toto,” Tata said later. “I was flabbergasted.” This was the genesis of Air-India International. Tata Airlines launched Air-India International on March 8, 1948.

Exactly three months later, India made her debut in international aviation with the inaugural flight of Air-India’s Bombay-London service. India’s colours were borne by the Constellation ‘Malabar Princess’, which took off from the Santa Cruz airport (Bombay) at 11:30 pm with the 35 passengers, among them Tata, who carried with him messages of greeting and goodwill from the prime minister of India, Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, to the prime minister of Great Britain, the president of the Swiss Republic and the prime minister of Egypt.

The Malabar Princess carried with her 164 bags containing about 1,700 lb of letter mail, the greater part of it being fraternal greetings from Indians to peoples and countries along her route. Tata said on that occasion, “It was significant that this was the first major scheme of economic development of modern India...” and, therefore, a historic landmark.

Right from the start, Air-India came out with flying colours, doubling operations in the next four years, and posting a profit every year until 1952. But by July 1953, ten more private airlines, operating in the country, had piled up huge losses. So, on August 1, 1953, the government nationalised all airlines under an act of Parliament. The Air Corporations Act, 1953, created two state corporations, one to operate to neighbouring countries, the other to run long-range international services. Air-India was merged with Indian Airlines and Air-India International, with Tata as chairman. Morarji Desai, then a minister in Nehru’s cabinet, invited JRD to be Air-India’s first chairman.

“I proposed that all the airlines should be merged into two,” Tata told Illustrated Weekly in 1978, “one for the east and one for the west. But the government did not accept my plan. Instead, it nationalised us all. I then suggested to them that there should be two separate airlines — domestic and international, just like BOAC and BA in those days. The government approved and acted accordingly.”

Yet, Air-India was small compared with major global carriers, and the coming of jetliners in international civil aviation airspace was crowding out the smaller players. Two months after the nationalisation of Air-India, Tata led a delegation to the annual general meeting of the International Air Travel Association (IATA) in Tokyo where he called on world airlines for some “sober and realistic thinking”, particularly in the direction of satisfying the “untapped demand for cheap air travel”. Tata said, “Jets may prove an expensive luxury if operated in excessive numbers or on routes for which they are not suited.”

Yet, by 1959, Air-India became among the world’s first few carriers to induct jets in its fleet, placing orders for three Boeing 707-420 Intercontinental jetliners.

A year later, Tata’s efforts in planting a newly-independent nation on the global aviation map won him international recognition when he was conferred the Cross of an officer of the Legion D’Honneur (Legion of Honour) by the president of France on 23 September, 1954. In 1958, JRD was elected president of IATA.

Both Tata and the carrier he had launched had flown a long way since. To commemorate 30 years of the Karachi-Bombay airmail service, JRD flew a specially commissioned mono-engined Leopard Moth on the Karachi-Bombay sector on October 15, 1962. By now, JRD had begun acquiring legendary reputation as an aviator. It didn’t take much time for the country to recognise Tata’s contribution when he was granted the honorary rank of an Air Commodore in the Indian Air Force on October 8, 1966.

By 1971, to meet the growing needs of a modern aviation industry and review the organisational structure of the civil aviation department, the government appointed a committee of experts. JRD was the official choice to head the team. And by 1978, Air-India created for itself the reputation of being among the world’s best-run airlines. This despite its comparatively modest fleet of 15 aircraft — five Jumbo 747s and 10 B-707s. By then, Air-India was also earning an annual profit of Rs 30 crore.

While nobody in the aviation business could question JRD’s stamp on managing a successful airline, a change of government in New Delhi (the first non-Congress government since independence) brought depressing news for the father of Indian aviation. In its moment of authority, the Morarji Desai government unceremoniously dismissed Tata as Air-India chairman in February 1978, after a 46-year uninterrupted stint. Nobody in the government sought to come forward with an explanation, though The Illustrated Weekly reported on March 5, 1978: “It is generally believed that during the Emergency, JRD had recognised some of the positive gains of the Emergency and this has brought the wrath of a section of the new government on his head. If public positions are to be decided on the basis of such criteria, how many in India will be able to survive the onslaught of the establishment?” In that particular issue, JRD was to tell Khushwant Singh: “I was fired as chairman of Air India on February 4, 1978.” The letter from the prime minister came so tardily as to rub salt on his wounds. The letter simply informed JRD of the government’s decision to retire him from the chairmanship of Air India and the appointment of retired Air Chief Marshal P C Lal, an employee of Tata’s, as chairman of both Air-India and Indian Airlines. The letter assumed, without prior consultation, that the air marshal could be spared by Tata. Air Chief Marshal Lal himself rose to the occasion and said he was sorry Tata was embarrassed by the manner in which he was relieved.

Prime minister Desai could himself not face the embarrassment from the government’s action, and so, wrote to JRD on February 9, 1978: “Let me assure you that we are very sorry to part with you as chairman of Air-India. We are fully appreciative of the distinguished services you have rendered to Air-India during your long association with it and the great contribution you have made to its build-up. I have no doubt that it is your association which is responsible for its being able to hold its own among the airlines of the world despite certain disadvantages and drawbacks with which you had to contend. I am expressing these views particularly because I do not wish you to entertain any impression that we have in any way made this change because of any lack of appreciation of your conspicuous work.”

Clearly, such consolation couldn’t be enough. Small wonder then, a year later, the global aviation industry rose to acknowledge Tata’s contribution to world aviation when it conferred upon him the Tony Janus Award on 31 March, 1979, in recognition of his outstanding contribution to the development of air transport.

Receiving the award in Florida, JRD predicted that semi-orbital mass travel would become a fact of life by the turn of the century. He said the Concorde was a final breakthrough in the development of the aircraft and it would come to all parts of the world, including India, before long. “I have seen mass air travel grow and it will be the love of my life to watch it grow further.”

Once a pioneer, always a pioneer. Despite his wings being clipped by an insensitive government, it was time once again for the country to celebrate JRD’s personal milestones. So, on October 14, 1982, a huge crowd gathered at the old Bombay airport, applauding, as Tata waved and took off in the Leopard Moth aircraft for Karachi via Ahmedabad, that morning. At 78, Tata was commemorating the golden jubilee of his historic airmail flight with a repeat performance, having commemorated the first 30 years in 1962. Tata shook hands with those around, touched the aircraft cockpit, which said “Karachi-Ahmedabad-Bombay” and proclaimed, “Yes, I will fly her.” Soon JRD was aboard, taking charge of the controls once more, and off to Karachi.

It had been an eventful journey for a man, who had, as a child, dreamt of soaring far above those to the privilege born. Yet, in the twilight moments of his dream, even Tata came to rue the state into which Air India had collapsed.

By the time of its 60th anniversary, in March 1992, Air India was just another international flag carrier, bested in business by several other Johnnies-come-lately. Tata dreamt that one day, Air India would return to its old days of glory. He regretted that the carrier was no longer known for its punctuality and blamed the trade unions for bringing the airline to such a pass. Tata regretted that the way industrial units were planned, labour unions made it difficult for the organisation to observe discipline and offer customer service.

“Unfortunately, we Indians are not by nature or habit disciplined,” he said. He was always surprised that the government had never appreciated the meaning of ‘morale’ in the running of industry and services.

If only Air India had Tata lifelong in its cockpit...

The Dreamer

Imagine a dreamer seeing his dream of building a monument go waste for the best part of his career and then, suddenly, one day, in the dusk of his life, waking up to find that the world has opened its gates to his dream of a new dawn. That, in short, is the story of JRD Tata, Jeh to friends, and visionary industrialist beyond compare in the history of 20th century industrial India.

Flashback to July 30, 1938: A 34-year-old rookie businessman, with barely any inheritance, and quite removed from the direct line of succession, is installed as the chairman of India’s biggest industrial enterprise. After all, his Tata surname counts.

The appointment was made at the company’s board meeting in Bombay House on July 26. By then, JRD had just about learnt enough to take on the responsibilities of the group with 14 companies in its fold. Bombay House, designed by George Wittet, the architect of the Gateway of India, was inaugurated as the group’s corporate headquarters only a year ago. Till then, the Tatas operated out of the brick-coloured Navsari Buildings.

Years later, JRD would say, in jest, the directors were in a state of ‘mental aberration’ when they made him the chairman. Having become a director of the Tata holding company, Tata Sons, in 1926 on the passing away of his father, JRD would eventually have the longest reign in corporate history as the head of such a large enterprise. Jamsetji headed Tata and Sons (as the firm was then called; it became Tata Sons — a private limited company — in 1917) for only 17 years.

When Tata arrived at Bombay House in 1925, his father took him to John Peterson, the director-in-charge of Tata Steel and introduced him, “John, you know my son Jehangir. I would like you to look after my boy.” Peterson, an ICS, was director of munitions in India during the First World War. He later resigned to join the Tatas. Peterson ordered a small desk to be installed in a corner of his room for Tata that very day.

“From then on, Peterson never had a moment of privacy,” JRD would recall later. “Every single paper going to his desk was routed through me. I studied it before I sent it up. And I studied his comments before I sent them out. I must say that was a very formative and important time of my career, when I saw how a highly trained ICS administrator worked. I learnt a lot from that.” Except for one major break, Tata worked with Peterson until 1931 when the latter returned to England.

In 1926, Tata took a train from Bombay’s Victoria Terminus to the steel city of Jamshedpur to familiarise himself with Tata Steel’s operations. When JRD was learning about steelmaking, his father, then 70, left for France to spend summer with his other children. On a Saturday, after dancing with his daughter Sylla, he collapsed.

With his father’s death, Tata found himself, at 22, the head of the family. His elder sister Sylla was two years older and yet to be married, his younger sister Rodabeh was 19 and brother Dorab and Jimmy were 14 and 10, respectively. Added to these responsibilities were the issues of settling his father’s debts to Sir Dorabji Tata.

JRD sold the Hardelot home and his father’s properties in Bombay and Pune, to pay off the debts. The one security, which he inherited, was his father’s position as permanent director of Tata Sons and the company started him with a salary of Rs 750 per month.

Almost 60 years later, JRD told The Illustrated Weekly, when he joined the business, taxes were low, perhaps even non-existent. There was no inducement for people to evade paying their taxes. There was no licence permit raj. So there was no one to bribe. No one who came to you and said: Give me some money and I’ll get your job done.

“Yes, people perhaps bribed a station master ten rupees to ensure that a wagon was put on the rake. Or corrupted a British policeman with a bottle of whisky when caught speeding. These were small things. Things that have happened down history. You could hardly call them acts of corruption. Or, for that matter, bribery.”

There were reasons for this. In JRD’s own words, when he joined business, a top civil servant earned Rs 4,000 a month. By the time he was 76, a top civil servant took home Rs 3,500! This, despite the fact that the rupee had become one-fiftieth its value and taxation was in force. “For years (under the licence-permit raj), I remember, I used to pay taxes of almost 98 per cent on anything I earned over Rs 1 lakh a year.”

JRD’s early induction into business came much against his desire to pursue higher studies at Cambridge. For the rest of his life, JRD never quite overcame the frustration of never having gone to college.

“Father decided that a college degree was not essential for a career in Tatas and summoned me to India. This decision is one I’ve regretted throughout my life and which caused me to have a life-long inferiority complex...My father really in many ways had ruined my career by depriving me of an university education. I would have been an engineer.

“I had no training in management but when I started in 1926, some books on management were being written. Not having had an academic training in engineering and technology, my only contribution to management had to be in handling men who had been so trained. Every man has his own way of doing things. To get the best out of them is to let them exploit their own instincts and only intervene when you think they are going wrong. Therefore, all my management contributions were on the human aspect through inducing, convincing and encouraging the human being.”

JRD put that approach to practice in 1943 when he spelt out the structure of industrial relations in Jamshedpur. Tata felt that companies took greater care of their machines than their men. This resulted in the establishment of the personnel department of Tata Steel. The one fallout of that partnership between labour and management at various levels was that Jamshedpur celebrated over 50 years of uninterrupted industrial peace — unique not only in India’s industrial relations culture, but perhaps, in the whole of Asia.

His lack of higher education also did not stop him from patronising the advancement of sciences. On August 9, 1943, Homi Bhabha, founder of the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research (TIFR) wrote to JRD: “The lack of proper conditions and intelligent financial support hampers the development of science in India, at the pace which the talent in the country would warrant.”

JRD wrote back: “If you and/or some of your colleagues in the scientific world will put up concrete proposals backed by a sound case I think there is a very good chance that the Sir Dorab Tata Trust...will respond. After all, the advancement of science is one of the fundamental objects with which most of the Tata trusts were founded, and they have already rendered useful service in that field.”

When TIFR was set up, the prefix Tata was no more significant beyond that JRD was instrumental in the genesis of the institute and Sir Dorab Tata Trust partially funded it initially.

His skills at management were also recognised by the National Association of Foremen of the US. On August 11, 1953, the association announced that its annual “international management man award will go this year to JRD Tata of Bombay for his work in developing modern and humane industrial relations in Indian plants and factories.”

The coming of Independence, however, saw disillusionment setting in. The nationalisation of his airline, and restrictions imposed by the Industrial Regulations and Development Act of 1953, shackled JRD’s entrepreneurial urge. With it came the horrors of the licence-permit raj that not only haunted him for the rest of his productive life, but also sapped the energies of the giant Tata enterprise.

Yet, in industry minister T T Krishnamachari, JRD saw the only really independent and decisive minister he had ever known. “Though in many other ways, he was a terrible man, very difficult, very authoritarian, yet, he was the only one who defied Jawaharlal’s brand of socialism. I guess that was because he himself was an industrialist.”

JRD tried for the rest of his life, to fight the system. Not with much luck though.

By 1961, Tata Iron and Steel, was urging before the Tariff Commission for a more flexible approach to fixing retention prices. Tata believed that the system in force had not only depleted profits, but was also faulty. The company’s profit margin on certain products requiring more specialised techniques had been smaller than on others.

By 1969, governance had become worse, with a revolt facing the Congress and its eventual split. JRD was concerned that recent political developments in Delhi had inevitably impeded government decision making in economic affairs and every day’s delay was adding to the country’s economic difficulties.

Addressing the annual general meeting of Tata Chemicals on November 22, 1969, Tata regretted his inability to update shareholders on the company’s plans for a fertiliser project. Tata complained that it was a national tragedy that despite an acute shortage of indigenous fertilisers and the massive import costs, the company’s project had been held up for two years, and not a single new major fertiliser project had been undertaken during the period.

He remained bitter that it would be impossible for private industry to contribute to 40 per cent of the country’s industrial development as projected in the Fourth Plan because of regulations, controls and restrictions and the threat of more such things to come.

“If the private enterprise was to play its legitimate role in the challenging decade of the 70s, “we must prove to the government, to Parliament and to the public in general that we deserve to be trusted with greater freedom of action and opportunities than are at present allowed to us.”

Tata felt there was “suspicion and hostility” towards the private sector because of the “depredations, misdeeds and conspicuous expenditure of a few individuals heading large enterprises, who in their pursuit of wealth, profit and self-aggrandisement, have wantonly disregarded the public interest.”

Those anti-social elements, he said, used tax evasion, black marketing, illegal foreign exchange transactions, bribery, corruption and political intrigues as the main instrument of personal gain. At the same time, the government and the political leaders failed to differentiate between those who honestly served the community and those who exploited it.

Tata saw much of the problems of the licence-permit raj arising out of the Congress’ hunger for resources to run the party and fight the elections. “The money required must be running into many crores. Or so I’ve heard,” he recounted later. “But personally speaking I don’t think that they need to spend such a lot of money. This need grew out of Mrs Gandhi’s belief that they needed enormous amounts of cash just for the sake of it. It was shameful.”

To make the business community more responsive to the society’s needs, JRD advocated that industries, especially in the countryside, should adopt neighbourhood villages and donate some of the time of their managers, engineers, doctors and skilled specialists to help and advise the villagers and jointly undertake developmental work.

That theme continued to dominate his interactions with the community as he urged India’s ‘new elite’, the professional men and entrepreneurs, to get inspired by the credo of service in creating a better life for the long-suffering people of India.

“We must assume,” he told his listeners, “that even a government as committed as ours to policies which we are convinced are incorrect would be prepared to change them sooner or later under the compulsions of economic realities,” and hoped that the government’s attachment to its current beliefs and policies would not last so long as to lead the country to disaster.

Tata observed that most Indian socialists failed to realise that far from being an enemy of socialism, private enterprise could be its partner and indeed its financier, as it generated most of the resources required by a socialist state to pay for its welfare schemes and social justice.

Leading by example, JRD ensured that from 1969, a part of the service charges collected at the Taj Mahal hotel in Bombay was put aside in a welfare fund to construct 114 flats, at a plot provided by Telco in Byculla. Lots were drawn in July 1973 and the flats allotted to waiters, assistant cooks, mazdoors, gardeners and other employees of the hotel, absolutely free.

Unfortunately, his arguments for corporate-backed social justice had few takers in the government. And by the time the Janata Party came to power, his crown jewel Tisco faced the real threat of being taken over by the government.

By late 1978, steel minister Biju Patnaik, backed by his industry ministry counterpart, George Fernandes, threatened to takeover Tisco. As a compensation, Patnaik invited JRD “to head the entire integrated steel industry of India,” if he “voluntarily” agreed to Tisco’s takeover.

JRD retaliated in his own inimitable style, shooting off a memorandum to the national executive of Janata Party on January 16, 1979, strongly opposing the move. The memo said the proposal for taking over Tisco and other companies would deal yet another blow to the continued existence of the mixed economy in India and accelerate its march towards a statist economy.

“Unless stopped in time, economic totalitarianism cannot but erode the fundamentals and substance of our political democracy and inexorably lead to an authoritarian state in which the cherished freedom we have recently gained will once more be extinguished.”

The memorandum referred to the argument advanced in favour of the proposal that the Tatas held only 3 per cent of the share capital and pointed out that the ownership of the company vested in 80,000 shareholders. The management of Tisco was not controlled by the Tatas but the board of directors, which included the nominees of the government and financial institutions, JRD said.

Coming close on the heels of his unceremonious sack as the chairman of Air India, the move was to permanently erode JRD’s faith in socialist style of governance. Instead, he saw in it the scope for crony capitalism.

That faith was only to be partly restored when Rajiv Gandhi took over as prime minister. On August 31, 1986, JRD told the Weekly: “(Under Rajiv Gandhi) we are going back to a cleaner environment. Things are much cleaner, much better today than they ever were. I would say, Yes, (this can continue as a trend), if Rajiv Gandhi survives. The hit list worries me, that’s all...” Yet, doubts plagued his mind, because the liberalisation he saw happening in Delhi, was missing elsewhere. “But there is no guarantee that the states will behave likewise. How can one say that the winds of change will blow everywhere?”

JRD strongly believed that if the power of the licensing system was diminished, the relationship between big business and the politicians would be weakened. “And, unless this venal link is snapped, it is difficult to expect business houses to be honest.”

By then, the Tata empire had assumed gigantic proportions within the framework of the licence-permit raj — its annual turnover at Rs 4,000 crore, assets at Rs 2,500 crore and employing 250,000 workers. The Tatas had interests spanning engineering and consumer durable, agricultural products and hi-tech computer systems, hotels and power generation. They were virtually into everything. Even in the news for trying to bring Pepsi Cola into India against fierce resistance from local soft drink manufactures.

“What is more important right now is that the government is realising that they need us, and not just for election funds. They need private enterprise to succeed, to grow. It seems almost unbelievable the way we are being encouraged in all matters. To grow, to strengthen our operations, to diversify. Telco was growing on its own, true. But now that Telco has been allowed to build a car, it will grow much faster. Undoubtedly,” JRD told the Weekly.

“Rajiv Gandhi has realised that statism and socialism have proved to be false promises. And, unlike his mother or his grandfather, he does not like living with failures. So he is acting. Swiftly and with conviction. He has realised that the public sector has failed to fulfil its task. Its main objective was to generate large sums of money to finance the country’s development. Instead, it has become a drag on us. Year after year after year the public sector makes enormous losses. So it appears that Rajiv will now initiate moves to slowly increase the role of the private sector and encourage industrial growth...”

However, that promise proved short-lived. By November 1986, the Tatas were forced to close down the Empress Mills at Nagpur ending their century old links with textiles. In a desperate bid to save the mill, the Tatas had offered to put in several crores of rupees, interest-free, towards the implementation of a rehabilitation package, which the IDBI had worked out after an exhaustive study to be followed by a major modernisation programme to which Tatas would also contribute.

The IDBI scheme stipulated several important conditions to be fulfilled by Tatas, the labour union and the state government, before the institutions and banks could make available additional funds. While the Tatas accepted the obligations, they found that the conditions on the others, would require considerable time to be fulfilled. The absence of any disbursement of funds other than from Tatas, to keep the mills in operation, left no alternative to their closure and the initiation of liquidation proceedings.

JRD’s disillusionment with the system continued with the rest of the decade until 1990 when he once again exhorted: “The world has thrown out our kind of socialism.”

Tata said, “It was an economic dictatorship by the government. It involved obtaining licences and permits for everything. You had to go to the minister or the bureaucrat.”

It was only a year later, with the onset of economic reforms under the P V Narasimha Rao regime, that JRD finally saw his dreams of freedom coming true at the ripe old age of 87.

It was a little too late by then. For JRD had already made way for Ratan Tata to assume the mantle of an empire he had ruled with dignity for 53 years. Two years later, on October 30, 1993, JRD went to sleep forever, never to wake up again, and see his dream come true. That task had to be left to his successor. End came to JRD in a Geneva hospital at 7:30 am (India time). He was to be buried later at the family mausoleum in Paris in the company of world-renowned personalities such as Oscar Wilde, Chopin and Jim Morrison.

shubhrangshuroy@mydigitalfc.com

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