Nehru & the Story of Indian Automobiles - II
As we have seen in the first part of this article, when Jawaharlal Nehru came to power in 1951, after India’s first general elections, India already had a fledgling automobile industry. So, what were the options that Nehru had? He could either shut them down or encourage them, yet make sure that they were sustainable. 
 
The year 1951 was a landmark for the industry, when the Industries (Development and Regulation) Act (IDRA) was enacted. The Act required an entrepreneur to get a licence to set up a new unit, to expand it, or to change the product mix. 
 
The purpose of this system of licensing was to create a planned pattern of investment, to minimise resource waste, to counteract monopolies and the concentration of wealth and to maintain regional balances. All very good intentions; but good intentions are one thing and their execution (specifically in India) is another. 
 
In the automotive sector, execution meant that the right to make different kinds of automobiles was restricted to a handful of manufacturers. Mahindra & Mahindra had to concentrate only on Jeeps. TELCO received a licence to make only trucks. So did Ashok Motors, which had to give up its assembling of the Austins. 
 
Austin, in the meantime, had merged with Morris, the collaborator of Hindustan Motors (HM), and the Nuffied Organisation in 1952 to form the British Motor Corporation (BMC). Similarly, Bombay-based Automotive Products of India (API), which had an assembly operation for another British brand, Hillman from the Rootes group, from 1949, received a licence to manufacture scooters. So, in 1955, API switched to manufacturing of Lambretta scooters (instead of assembling the Hillman), in collaboration with Innocenti of Italy.   
 
If America could have its ‘Big Three’, India had its ‘Little Three’—Hindustan Motors, Premier Automobiles and a Madras-based assembler, Union Motor Company, which had set-up an assembly line in 1949, after getting a licence to make cars (and which had signed up with another British car-maker Standard Motor Company). The government’s thinking was that there should be at most one car-maker at each of India’s three major ports. 
 
 
What Nehru and the Indian government did—to restrict the licence of manufacturing automobiles to a handful of private enterprises—is exactly what Japan did during the same time, and is what South Korea would eventually do two decades later. It may also be interesting to note that the permissions to assemble/manufacture cars were granted only to the zaibatsus and chaebols (the oligopolistic big family businesses in Japan and South Korea).   
 
Japan did allow a ‘free for all’ for the motorised two-wheeler industry and by the late-1950s as many as 50-odd two-wheeler manufacturers set up factories. Intense competition ended in a bloodbath and just five (Honda, Hodaka, Kawasaki, Suzuki and Yamaha) survived into the later-1960s. 
 
In 1954, the Indian government realised that there were some 60-odd models of cars (mostly imported) selling in a market, which barely aggregated 20,000 sales per year. Clearly, with competition from imported vehicles, the fledgling auto industry could not survive. The import of automobiles and components as well, was a serious drain on foreign exchange. With self-sufficiency as the mantra of Nehru and the government then, it was decided, in 1954, that high import tariff for automobiles and components was necessary to support localisation and growth of the automobile industry. Consequently, GM and Ford stopped their assembly operations that year. 
 
With the eventual objective of complete localisation, the three Indian car-makers decided that it would be prudent to concentrate on one specific model, for which they acquired the tooling from their respective collaborators. It also made sense to phase out the assembling of the slow-selling Studebakers and Chrysler Corporation cars, which is what Hindustan Motors and Premier Automobiles did, respectively, by the end of the 1950s. 
 
From the beginning of the 1960s, it was a case of — ‘you can have any car you please as long as it is a Hindustan Ambassador or a Fiat 1100 or a Standard Herald’! 
 
 
Yet, less than a decade after IDRA was enacted in 1951, the year when the ‘Licence Raj’ came into being, many of the who’s who in the corridors of power had begun to question whether the system actually benefited the people. 
 
One school of thought was that passenger cars per se should be a low priority item for industrial growth and progress; two-wheelers, buses and commercial vehicles were significantly more important than cars, a product available only to the very rich at that point of time. At the same time, politicians expressed concern about the cost and prices of the cars made then. At a price of Rs12,000 for the Hindustan Ambassador (Rs11,554 plus taxes), the car represented 40 years of an average Indian’s salary then! 
 
The Fiat 1100 Select and the Standard Ten were marginally cheaper at Rs10,566 and Rs9,988, respectively, they were very expensive luxuries for the Indian masses. Though localisation had just about begun, it was still a long way from a situation where the import of components was not a drain on foreign exchange which had become very scarce by the late-1950s. 
 
In 1959, with the country facing a serious foreign exchange crunch, the Nehru government looked at ways to cut imports. Swadeshi, localisation, other than being a populist ideological buzzword, was also a necessity, so the government set up a committee in April 1959, under LK Jha, an additional secretary in the commerce ministry at that point of time, to look into the possibility of making a lower-cost ‘people’s car’.
 
The Jha committee concluded that it would be possible to make an inexpensive ‘people’s car’ at a target price of around Rs5,000 to Rs6,000 (the equivalent of Rs1.8 lakh in current value). This was about half the prevailing price of cars then, and that the demand for such a car could well be over 10,000 units per year. 
 
Submitted in February 1960, the Jha committee recommended that the car should be small, yet roomy, sturdy and capable of carrying an average Indian family. The conclusions of the Jha committee had the Indian government enthused enough for the then minister of industry to announce in Parliament that, “we will have the people’s car, of the people, manufactured by the people, for the people of this country.” 
 
Despite such enthusiasm, in the following year, the government decided to set up another committee, this time under the chairmanship of the retired chairman of the Railway Board, G Pandey, to look into the feasibility of the ‘people’s car’ project. 
 
The Pandey committee concluded that it was, indeed, feasible and recommended that the car be made in collaboration with French car-maker Renault. The fact that Renault was (French) government-owned may have influenced Pandey committee’s recommendations.
 
The government of India began discussions with Renault. What brought an end to those negotiations was the reaction of the then deputy chairman of the Planning Commission, VK Krishnamachari, who believed that greater priority needed to be given to bicycles, scooters, buses and trucks. 
 
 
Then, on 9 August 1962, the minister for steel and mines, C Subramaniam stated in Lok Sabha that, “the small car project cannot be moved up in any list of priorities. The priority in the field of automobiles for some time to come ought to be definitely and overwhelmingly in favour of the manufacturers of commercial vehicles which will provide the base for transport of goods and public transport.”   
 
Incidentally, the numbers for the Indian marketplace was not impressive: though the sales of cars had gone up from a very modest 14,688 in 1950 to 26,800 in 1958 (a most impressive growth of 82% in eight years), achieving a volume of even an additional 10,000 (an unviable figure nonetheless) for a fourth car-maker looked a tad too ambitious. 
 
After the war with China in 1962 and other matters of greater import coming up, even by 1964, when Nehru passed away, no decision had been taken regarding the ‘people’s car’ project. The story of how the ‘people’s car’ project came by should be for another day.
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HPPL HPP

5 days ago


THE THINKING THEN ------ PROFIT IS A DIRTY WORD ---
EXCERPT ---
"Tata did not approve of Nehru’s economic policies. Nehru once told Tata that he hated the word profit. “Jawaharlal, I am talking about the need of the public sector making a profit,” Tata shot back.

“Never talk to me about the word profit; it is a dirty word,” Nehru retorted.

shadi katyal

6 days ago

Nehru idea of car was that it is a luxury and there are more important needs like feeding the population. Total capacity was limited to 20,000 cars
I do recall very well as it was my cousin Rajender Sikka who was the planning and manufacturing engineer and was sent to USA to buy necessary equipment from Detroit and Beloit.
The car was manufactured at Calcutta plant and was driven by road for delivery to other cities. The industry was infant and thus lack of foreign exchange did not help and yet the only car which lasted for so long in the market aaccepted it as an official car of GOI

Doosri Sita: Jaya Salvages Lurid Plot
As Jaya Bhaduri and Amitabh Bachchan celebrate their 46th wedding anniversary this month (3rd June), let us have a look at Doosri Sita (The Second Sita), one of Jaya Bhaduri’s lesser-known films that was released after her marriage in 1973. 
 
The film was directed by Gogi Anand and produced by BK Khanna. The music by RD Burman had only one memorable number – “Tu Jahan Mile Mujhe” (presumably shot in Mazgaon dockyard, Mumbai). Lyrics were written by Gulzar but surprisingly the other songs do not connect with you and leave little impact. Nitin Mukesh’s rendering of “Tu Jahan Mile Mujhe” is insipid and lacks rhythm and finesse.
 
Sita Wagle (Jaya Bhaduri) is in love with Ramesh (Romesh Sharma) but the latter considers her as a friend. Sita is the daughter of Ramesh’s beloved teacher (A K Hangal). When Ramesh doesn’t reciprocate her feelings, Sita is forced to marry another man who turns out to be a rogue. He not only harasses her physically and mentally but also forces her to provide sex to his friend. A highly incensed Sita ends up murdering her husband. What follows is a court case that keeps dragging because Sita refuses to open up and reveal the truth. The jail authorities discover that Sita is pregnant. Her lawyer (Simi Garewal) fights hard for her and eventually, Sita is released on parole. She delivers a baby and refuses to even touch the baby but persistent attempts by Ramesh makes her thaw. Ramesh realizes that he too is in love with her and is hopeful of securing a release for Sita so that he can marry her. But how could a movie in the mid-’70s have had a happy ending? 
 
 
The film has a supporting cast of Raza Murad, Lalita Pawar, Mohan Chotti, Kuljit, Praveen Paul and Sudhir. But let us admit it – the film is macabre and is watchable only because of its leading lady’s screen presence.
 
Not much is known about Gogi Anand except that he was related to the legendary actor Dev Anand. He was Jaya Bhaduri’s classmate in FTII. His original name was Alokmitra Anand. He also directed “Double Cross” a movie that released in 1973 and starred Rekha and Vijay (Goldie) Anand.
 
Romesh Sharma, the lead actor in Doosri Sita, was born in Gurdaspur in 1947. His father Brij Sharma was a film distributor.  Just like Gogi Anand and Jaya Bhaduri, Romesh is also an alumnus of FTII. He produced the movie “Hum” that starred Amitabh Bachchan, Kimi Katkar, Rajinikanth, Deepa Sahi, and Govinda. In the process, he became family friends with the Bachchans.
 
 
As an actor, Romesh Sharma’s oeuvre was limited – Parinay (with Shabana Azmi), The Burning Train (with Padmini Kapila) and Sajjo Rani (with Rehana Sultan). But being born with a silver spoon in his mouth, he had good innings as a film producer before he migrated to Australia in the ’90s.  He launched his son Karan Sharma in the 2005 film “Dil Jo Bhi Kahey” but the film tanked at the box office despite the presence of stalwarts like Amitabh Bachchan and Revathy. The film was directed by Romesh Sharma but had a weak script that damaged its box office prospects.
 
Doosri Sita had a limited run at the box office, thanks to the lurid plot, poor production values, and a predictable ending. It is clear that the otherwise choosy Jaya Bhaduri would have agreed to play this role only because it was helmed by her FTII colleague. Kudos to her magnanimity! It is amazing how all the FTII alumni have such strong bonding, unlike today's college students who forget their friends as soon as they finish college and enter the job market.
 
When a journalist went to meet Jaya Bhaduri-Bachchan in the ’80s to discuss and review the films that she had done, Jaya exclaimed, “27 films – is that all what I have done?” Today that number may have increased slightly but the fact is that Bollywood lost one of its charming and bubbly actresses to matrimony.  Jaya Bhaduri-Bachchan will continue to be remembered in the annals of Bollywood film history as the girl-next-door with a squeaky clean image and great acting prowess.
 
If any readers have any information about Gogi Anand, please share the same in the "comments" column.
 
(After working in the corporate world for close to two decades, Bhagyalakshmi Seshachalam started her second career innings as a head-hunter. She is passionate about Hindi movies and loves retro music. When her family shifted to Chennai in the 80s, Bhagya had a taste of Tamil cinema too. In the long term, she plans a book on two of her favourite directors – Guru Dutt and K Balachander. She travels across the country on work and is based in Mysore.)
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Ramesh Poapt

5 days ago

sorry about gogi, but i did see the movie.
excellent fact-full article!nostalgic flashback,wow!! thanks.

Nehru & the Story of Indian Automobiles - I
With the Indian elections over and with a resounding win for the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), bashing Jawaharlal Nehru is back with much fervour. One of the points made by most anti-Nehru friends is how he and his policies strangled India’s automobile industry and how the industry (with the Hindustan Ambassador as a favourite example) came to symbolise all that was wrong with Nehruvian India. 
 
Personally, I am hardly a fan of Nehru (or the political dynasty that followed); but I am not too sure whether the policies regarding automobile industry could have been all that different, even if any other political party, of a different hue, were in power in those post-Independence days. 
 
Pre-Independence Automobile Industry in India 
As a part of the British colonial empire, there was no incentive or protection available to start an automobile industry in India pre-Independence. Automobiles, mostly British, were imported into the country and the American car-makers Ford and General Motors had assembly plants in the country. In the early years, several European car-makers did ship out their cars in chassis-mechanical form, to be ‘bodied’ in India. 
 
Building coaches of these bodies was, perhaps, the earliest automotive ‘manufacturing’ activity in India. That disappeared though, once the industry moved from coach-built cars to series production automobiles. 
 
Though Ford Motor Company was first off the block in incorporating Ford India on 31 July 1926, the company took a while to set up its first assembly plant in Bombay, in the suburb of Bhandup, in 1931, followed a few months later by similar facilities in the port cities of Calcutta and Madras too. Before Ford got its assembly facilities going, a wealthy Calcutta-based barrister Sushil Chandra Chaudhury decided to invest in a car assembly facility, in 1927. Mr Chaudhury’s nephew, Anil Kumar Mitra, had studied automobile engineering in USA and then worked with Ford, before signing up with fledgling car-maker Graham-Paige and heading back home to Calcutta to set up the assembly facilities at 2 Rowland Road, where the Chaudhurys already had a tyre service centre, International Tyre & Motor Company. 
 
Initially, Graham-Paige seemed to be successful, selling well as taxis because of the car’s rather compact turning circle; but the investment was considerable and, within two years, International Tyre & Motor bankrupted.  
 
General Motors (GM), on the other hand, had a much more successful run in India. Though its assembly facility at Sewri, neighbouring the Bombay Port, was inaugurated in December 1928, series assembly began in earnest in 1929, with several of the many GM brands, including Buick, Chevrolet, Oakland, Oldsmobile and Pontiac, rolling off the lines simultaneously. 
 
Trucks, with the GM branding, were also assembled. By the time GM overtook Ford worldwide (in 1931), the Indian market, too, was contributing to the GM’s global lead, and this was reflected by the increasing popularity of Chevrolets and Buicks in the sub-continent.
 
 
Ford, too, did well in India. Ford Canada had the distribution rights for the British colonies and, in 1926, the first year of Ford’s direct operations in India, 4,152 Model Ts found buyers. By 1930, the number of Fords sold in India had gone up to 5,107 (all imported); by 1935, these increased to 5,444 (by now, mostly assembled) and then to 7,011, by 1940. 
 
In fact, in the WW-II years, 1940 to 1946, Ford assembled and delivered as many as 114,485 defence vehicles to the Allied forces in India from its three assembly plants!     
 
Surprisingly, just one other car assembly set-up came up in the 1930s, that of Addison in Madras, to assemble British Wolseleys, a logical move as Addison was already the dealer for Wolseleys, Morris and Riley, amongst others. Incidentally, most of the British car-makers did not need to set up assembly facilities, as the market was, in a sense, a captive one for them. It also was not in their nature to do so—Austin preferred licensing production elsewhere and Morris Motors did not have a Ford-style assembly line until 1934! 
 
For the Americans, shipping complete cars all the way from USA was expensive. Ford was, as well, a pioneer in transplanting the assembly line and in international thinking with the Model-T, opening plants in Canada and the UK as long back as in 1911, where Model-Ts were assembled from knocked-down kits. GM, sure enough, learnt quickly.
  
The failure of the first Indian car-assembling venture, that of International Tyre & Motor to make the Graham-Paige cars, may have been a deterrent for many Indian entrepreneurs looking to invest in the car-making business in the 1930s. At the same time, the Great Depression, by wiping out two-thirds of the car-makers across the globe, may have also played a role. 
 
Yet, it is interesting to note that it was in 1930 that Japan’s fledgling car industry had made a very modest start with the manufacture of all of 500-odd units! 
 
Though exact numbers are not available for car sales for pre-Independence India, it has been estimated that about 17,000 cars were sold in the Indian subcontinent in the calendar year 1930. A plausible figure, given that in 1950—the first officially available statistics—sales of cars in a divided-and-significantly-impoverished India totalled all of 14,688 units.
 
One theory on why car-assembling ventures never took off in pre-Independence India, is that Indian business houses just did not have the confidence to take on such capital-intensive projects with the British ‘masters’ around, and that it was changes in the political environment that, finally, got the Indian businessmen to seriously start thinking of automobile production. By 1940, the writing was on the wall—the beginning of the end of British imperialism and the dawn of a new order and a new era in Indian industry. 
 
Make in India, Then
 
Business houses like the Birlas and the Walchands, as well as the Tatas, were the first movers to perceive business opportunities in automobiles. Walchand Hirachand Doshi saw opportunities in shipping as well as construction of aircrafts. 
 
In fact, Hindustan Aircraft in Bangalore (which later became Hindustan Aeronautics Limited, HAL) was born out of a chance meeting between an American aircraft executive and Walchand Hirachand on a flight to the US in 1939. 
 
Mr Walchand’s visit was for a possible collaboration with one of the American ‘Big Three’ for the manufacture of cars. His first stop was at General Motors; but then GM already had its assembly set-up in Bombay. An audience with Henry Ford, it seems, went well. Mr Ford asked him to speak to the Ford Motors’ Canadian division, which was handling the British Commonwealth markets, including India; but Ford had three successful assembly operations going on in India, so Walchand Hirachand then knocked at the doors of Chrysler Corporation. Chrysler Corporation and Walchand Hirachand signed up in 1940. 
 

With WW-II intervening, car production was set aside for the War effort, as Chrysler Corporation concentrated on the manufacturing of the famous Sherman tanks and Dodge made the engines for the Boeing B-29 Superfortress and military trucks. Walchand Hirachand, in the meantime, incorporated his car company, Premier Automobiles Limited, in 1941. Then he had to wait patiently, till the War came to an end. 
 
It was a somewhat similar story with the Birlas. Hindustan Motors was incorporated in 1942, at the tiny Gujarat port town of Okha. The War and the consequent diversion of efforts into the production of war material had all the car majors busy—Birla and Hindustan Motors had to wait, too. 
 
Other industrial groups also saw opportunities and automotive enthusiast JRD Tata decided to get the Tata group to incorporate Tata Engineering & Locomotive Company Limited (TELCO) in 1945, with plans to make locomotives and vehicles. In Ludhiana, a company called Mahindra & Mohammed was incorporated in 1945 to trade in steel. 
 
With India’s independence, and only after things stabilised, that the business of car-making and assembly was, once again, considered. By 1948, Mahindra & Mohammed had become Mahindra & Mahindra, as business partner Ghulam Mohammed left for Pakistan to become Pakistan’s first finance minister. Hindustan Motors migrated to West Bengal in 1948 and set up a factory in a town called Uttarpara, some 15km north of Calcutta.
 
Premier Automobiles was first off the block getting its factory in the Bombay suburb of Kurla up and running by 1949, when the first set of Dodge, Plymouth and DeSoto badged cars rolled off the lines, along with the first batch of trucks with Dodge, Fargo and DeSoto branding (Fargo being the brand for trucks sold by the Plymouth dealers).
 
The same year, the assembly lines began rolling at Hindustan Motors as the company cleverly signed two deals, one with American car-maker Studebaker, and the other with British manufacturer Morris Motors. Hindustan Motors began its Morris assembly operations with the Morris Ten, launched in India as the Hindustan 10 in 1949. The 10 was replaced with the ‘Baby’ Hindustan (Morris Minor), and complemented that with the slightly bigger Hindustan Fourteen (the Morris Oxford). The Fourteen was replaced by the Hindustan Landmaster (the Morris Oxford Series II), which, in turn, was replaced, in 1957, by the Ambassador (the Morris Oxford Series III). In 1959, when the Oxford Series III was replaced by an all-new car, the tooling of the Series III was shipped to India… the Ambassador remained in production until 2014. 
 
 
 
Not unlike Hindustan Motors, Premier Automobiles, too, had two tie-ups: one with Chrysler, the other with Fiat of Italy. Initially, completely built up Fiat 500C Topolinos and 1100s were imported and sold. 
 
Then they moved to assembling the two-door 500C and the all-new 1100 in 1954. Until 1965, as Fiat in Italy kept updating the 1100 with cosmetic upgrades, the Premier-assembled Fiats in India too kept getting facelifts. In 1965, Premier introduced the Fiat 1100 D, or Delight. This was the Italian Fiat 1100D from 1962. The tooling was shipped out to India in 1966, and, like the Ambassador, the Fiat 1100D remained in production from 1966… to 2000!
 
 
In the meantime, TELCO went into the business of manufacturing trucks in a factory in Jamshedpur, after it inked a technical collaboration with Daimler-Benz, from Germany, in 1954. A prominent importer in Calcutta, Dewar’s Garage also waded into the assembly business, bolting together and selling British brands such as Singers and Rovers. 
 
Mahindra & Mahindra signed up with Willys to assemble the Willys Jeep CJ3B, under licence in India, in a factory in north Bombay; this was sold as the brand ‘Mahindra Jeep’.
 
Madras, too, had its fair share of automotive assembling action. Entrepreneur Raghunandan Saran set up an assembly plant in Madras to assemble Austin cars, naming the company Ashok Motors. Starting operations in 1948, Ashok Motors assembled and sold the Austin A40 from 1949. The Austin A30 was also considered but, apart from receiving a prototype in 1953, no progress was made on this, as Leyland trucks became the focus.     
 
(Part 2 of this article will be published next week)
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Jatinder

1 week ago

Fabuous article, giving the right historical perspective on Indian automobile seen. I am aprticularly glad that there is a picture of Landmaster car, the forerunner of the Ambassador car. Most people have forgotten the Landmaster, that it existed, just as people have forgotten the Standard car made in Madras those days, which some people preferred to buy because it was low, so a lower CG for safety, and it had a smaller turnaround circle. This fact was demonstrated by a rich businessman in Punjab when he bought the Standard car and was asked what is special. Old-timers would recall that the Standard car was used in the famous car-race between Dilip Kumar and Manoj Kumar in the film Aadmi (1968) - Dr. J.V. Yakhmi

govind wattal

1 week ago

Sir Mirza Ismail and and Sir M Visvesvaraya wanted to start a Joint Venture with Chrysler Corporation but were stymied by the British.

https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/bengaluru/the-statesman/articleshow/66296400.cms

Meenal Mamdani

1 week ago

Thanks. You have done us all a great service by not just defending the policies of the govt at the time but also providing the background information.

P S SHANKAR

1 week ago

Excellent article. It is great to learn about India's automobile industry history. Fascinating. Thanks to the author for the thorough research.

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