About: the world this week, 13 February to 19 February 2022, Wars, Emergency, King Kong, Humara Bajaj, Workhorses, a Disco King, and Space.


Russia Re-thinks Borders and Tanks

While Russia was amassing its troops at the Ukrainian Border, the United States, United Kingdom, and other countries developed ‘war fever’ and built-up high border temperatures, ‘Russia is going to invade in the next several days, today, tomorrow, Wednesday, Friday, 4am, 6pm…Your guess is as good as mine. Meanwhile, Russia began withdrawing some troops, bordering Ukraine, after completion of a number of combat training exercises, including drills. Some Units of the Western military districts have already been loaded on rail and road transport and began moving to their military garrisons. True Lies?

The ‘Warm War’ gets slightly cold (before it gets warm again?) Wonder what’s running through Russia’s mind with the tension build-up on war: A return to the Law of the Jungle, where a powerful predator wolfs down another, or a farewell to arms? India’s Ashoka the Great gave-up on war in 260 BCE: Russia should take history lessons from India.

Emergency Drives in to Canada

Across the Atlantic Ocean, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau declared a national emergency in response to the truckers protest against various Covid19 restrictive measures and vaccine mandates, which had swelled-up over the past weeks to vomit all kinds of grievances. And had besieged streets and roads. The Emergency Act which was enacted in 1988 has never been used before in Canada’s history-there is always a first! The emergency powers come into immediate effect and will last 30 days. This gives the Government stronger powers to disperse gatherings of protestors; go after crowdfunding platforms and payment processors, which funded the protest; and compel financial institutions to freeze accounts of individuals and organisations linked to the agitation. Looks to be too deadly a drive.

Coronavirus, the King Kong of Hong Kong

Just when we thought we are beginning to see the last spike of the coronavirus, Hong Kong was hit by a stunning tsunami of new Covid19 cases that overwhelmed Hospitals and left more than 10,000 people waiting for treatment.

This is the worst wave in Hong Kong in two years since the pandemic, throwing-up more than 15000 cases in the last two weeks with about 12 deaths. And shattered the ‘Zero Covid’ strategy of ‘Find, Test, Trace, Isolate, and Support.

‘Zero Covid’ is a control and maximum suppression strategy, the goal being to get the affected area back to zero new infections and resume normal life across the spectrum.

It appears that the huge back-log of testing – three to four day testing lag- is the primary cause of the spiralling outbreak.

Humara Bajaj, Made in India

In the days India was under the Licence Raj, in the tight business-regulated seventies when bikes were scarce and scooters ruled, getting a Bajaj Scooter was like manna from Heaven. You make a booking and wait for near about 10 years for the Scooter to arrive. And when it did arrive you have to lovingly put it to sleep on its side for a moment, wake it up, and kick it, to start driving. If it doesn’t start, repeat the process. Everything in the scooter made the right noise except the horn which had a distinctive ‘murmur tone’ – one had to get horribly close to hear it. Nevertheless, it was an iconic scooter and India lived on it.

India’s then Licence Raj strangulated manufacturing and though there were many other two-wheeler manufacturers: Ideal Java, Enfield, Rajdoot, and Lambretta, only Bajaj Auto’s Scooter had a 10 year waiting period. The rules stipulated that a Company could produce only up to 25% in excess of its licensed capacity. The maker of the Bajaj Scooter, industrialist Rahul Bajaj, pleaded with the Government to allow him to manufacture more scooters to meet the ruthless demand, without much success.

The story goes that, when Rahul went to New Delhi to face a three-member commission, the Chairman of Automobile Products of India (API), which Company manufactured Lambretta scooters, had been invited as a competitor. API made a case of their scooter being superior by saying it weighed about 100 kilograms (kg) whereas Baja Auto’s Vespa weighed only 94 kg. Rahul Bajaj famously replied, “Yes, the Lambretta scooter is 100 kg of silver; the Bajaj scooter is 94 kg of gold!”

Initially, Bajaj Auto made Vespa Scooters under license from the Italian company, Piaggio. When the two companies failed to reach an agreement on renewing their ride together, in the early 1970s, the Chetak Scooter was born out of necessity. And went on to become a symbol of aspiration and a house-hold name in pre-liberalisation India.

The Chetak (meaning, one who remains conscious) was eponymous with the name of Maharana Pratap’s horse at the battle of Haldighati in the 16th century when fighting the Mughal Army of Akbar. Those familiar with India’s history know that Chetak valiantly saved the then Rajput King of Mewar, Maharana Pratap from certain death, in spite of it being fatally wounded in battle: impaled by the tusk of an Elephant in one leg. Chetak found the gap, when the King was surrounded by the enemy in a losing battle, and carried the seriously injured Maharana to the safety of a nearby forest. Later, Chetak succumbed to its wounds. Maharana Pratap lived to fight another day and regain his kingdom.

Chetak was the synonym of loyalty, coupled with die-hard endurance. The name suited the scooter because it was a robust vehicle with superb balance. The Chetak’s popularity was ‘driven home’ by the timeless advertisement catchline, ‘Hamara Bajaj’ (Our Bajaj).

Rahul Bajaj was never known to be modest. Brash and assertive, he believed he created one of India’s best companies in the difficult days of the Licence-permit Raj. By 1980, Bajaj Auto was the top scooter producer by far, and the Chetak had a 10 year waiting list. Rahul’s success might have been due to the quasi-monopoly status he got as an early entrant at a time when foreign collaborations and licences were difficult to obtain. However, in the 1980s capacity licensing and foreign collaboration for two-wheelers was liberalised. All the world’s top players, Honda, Suzuki, Yamaha, Piaggio, Garelli, Peugot, entered the Indian market through collaborations or joint ventures. Bajaj Auto met the challenge squarely, and beat the newcomers hands down in scooters. However, Hero-Honda surged ahead to an unbeatable position in motorcycles, when scooters were far more popular in the 1980s.

Rahul Bajaj now saw himself as the hero of Indian manufacturing. His ambition was to overtake Honda and become the world’s largest scooter producer. Then came the Indian economic liberalisation in the 1990s. Initially, this seemed to favour Bajaj Auto, since traditional constraints ended. But Indians began to prefer motorcycles to scooters, and Chetak could only carry Bajaj Auto away to rethink and change its strategy, when Hero Honda won the two-wheeler battle.

Bajaj Auto then took a motorcycle turn beginning with the hugely popular Bajaj M-50 and M-80 motorcycle, which I would call a cross between a scooter and a motorcycle. Bajaj Auto also collaborated with Kawasaki of Japan, to make the Kawasaki Bajaj -KB100 -a 100cc motorcycle-which was a roaring success along with other equally successful brands such as, Yamaha RX100 and Hero Honda CD100. I fell for the Yamaha in those days!

The man at helm of all of this was Rahul Bajaj. He was raised in a family where his grandfather, Jamnalal Bajaj, was treated by Mahatma Gandhi as his fifth son. His father Kamalnayan was a Congress party member who later fell out with its leader. The Bajaj family was politically well-heeled, with senior politicians paying visits to their family home.

Rahul Bajaj had just fallen in love with his future wife Rupa (under Mom’s watchful eyes), but his Dad pushed him to first ‘build-up and assemble’ degrees from St. Stephen’s College, Delhi, Government Law College, Mumbai, and the Harvard Business School, US. Armed to the teeth with these degrees, and after marrying his pillion-rider Rupa in 1961, Rahul Bajaj took over Bajaj Auto in 1965 to ride his Company from Vespa, through the Chetak saga, to the Kawasaki motorcycle period.

Meanwhile, in the early 1990s, Rajiv Bajaj, Rahul’s eldest son returned to India from business school in the United States, and this is a story of where a son rides on the shoulders of an illustrious father to reach greater heights.

Rajiv Bajaj saw his Dad’s ambition of becoming world No. 1 in scooters was irrelevant in a global economy where motorcycles ruled supreme, and that the company needed to change its strategy accordingly. He took a hard look at Bajaj Auto and came to very different conclusions.

Father Rahul was extremely proud of the two factories he had created, but son Rajiv saw them as grossly overmanned and inefficient. And with such a flawed work culture reforming them was next to impossible. Instead of ploughing through the old to change, he chose to make an entirely new path. Rajiv built a third factory with a totally new workforce and work culture that could compete with the world’s best. Unlike Rahul, Rajiv did not focus on the disadvantages Indian businessmen faced. Instead, he focused on two huge advantages: Diploma Engineers and Research & Development (R&D) Scientists who were available at one-tenth of comparable wages in the Western World.

The old factories had 20% daily wage earners, 80% skilled workers and no engineers at all on the shop floor. At the new factory Rajiv Bajaj created a workforce with 80% diploma engineers and 20% skilled workers. Wages averaged about the same between the old and the new.

Bajaj Auto taught us that India’s big advantage lay not in cheap labour, but in cheap design and engineering skills.

To his credit, father Rahul Bajaj backed son Rajiv’s new approach. Later, Rajiv launched the Bajaj Pulsar series of motorcycles in the 2000s, which were a mind-boggling success. And recently rolled out an electric version of the ‘grand old’ Bajaj Chetak. In 2005 Rahul Bajaj handed over the keys of Bajaj Auto to son Rajiv and stepped back. In April 2021 he gave-up his position as non-executive Director and Chairman.

The veteran head of the Bajaj Group, Rahul Bajaj, passed away on 12 February 2022, Saturday at the age of 83 of pneumonia and heart related problems. He was a given a State Funeral. He goes over to meet the original Chetak, up above the skies. Bajaj Auto is on safe wheels for sure. He leaves behind sons Rajiv and Sanjiv, and daughter Sunaina Kejriwal. His wife Rupa Bajaj passed away in 2013. Rahul Bajaj was an India-First trailblazer. Rest in peace.

Disco Music in India Loses Solid Gold

Indian singer, music composer, and record producer, Bappi Lahiri (Alokesh Lahiri) 69 died in Mumbai this week.

He is known for his disco-style songs where he brought orchestration and fusion of Indian music with international music, popularising the use of synthesised disco music in Indian cinema. ‘I am a Disco Dancer’ in the film ‘Disco Dancer’ (made in Tamil as ‘Paadum Vaanampadi’) was a hugely popular song in the 1980s and 1990s with his typical disco music. Though he mostly made dance numbers, there are some unforgettable melodious jewels, such as in the movie ‘Chalte Chalte and Zakhmee’.

Music apart, Bappi Lahiri was known for his ‘extremely loud dressing’, consisting of tons of gold chains, jewellery, velvet cardigans, sunglasses. He was inspired by Elvis Presley, in addition to a natural fondness for gorgeous, outlandish jewellery and believed wearing all of them – in the manner only he could-worked for him. It did.

ISRO is Back – in Space

India’s ISRO (The Indian Space Research Organisation) is back in business and is warming up for a Moon-Misson later this year with Chandrayaan-3 expected to find Earth’s Moon in August 2022.

This Monday, ISRO successfully launched its Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle, PSLV-C52, carrying three satellites from the Satish Dhawan Space Centre in Sriharikota, on India’s Eastern Coast. The three Satellites were cooly placed in their respective orbits.

PSLV is the third generation launch vehicle of India, the first Indian launch vehicle to be equipped with liquid stages. After its first successful launch in October 1994, PSLV emerged as a reliable and versatile launch vehicle of India earning the title, ‘the Workhorse of ISRO’, with 39 consecutively successful missions by June 2017. It consistently delivered various satellites to Low Earth Orbits taking up to 1750 kg of payload to sun-synchronous polar orbits of 600 km altitude.

During 1994-2017 period, the vehicle has launched 48 Indian satellites and 209 satellites for customers from abroad. Besides it successfully launched two spacecraft – Chandrayaan-1 in 2008 and Mars Orbiter Spacecraft in 2013 – that later traveled to Moon and Mars respectively.

Taking a leaf out of the Bajaj Auto handbook, maybe ISRO should consider naming the PSLV as ‘Chetak’. That’s closer to home!

More powerful, jewelled, learning stories coming-up in the weeks ahead. Don’t go to war – not with World Inthavaaram


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