Ratan Tata is like the Aamir Khan of Indian Business

On December 16, 2010 By newsguide Topic: Politics and Government, India

Aamir Khan is a sincere man. Ratan Tata is a sincere man. Both are sincere businessmen. But shrewd businessmen. Both use the power of image to push their respective businesses. One uses his image power to push mediocre films as ground-breaking films teaming with great acting and taut storylines. The other uses his image to push a business conglomerate of largely commodity-like, rent-based, innovation-challenged companies, marginally ahead of similar conglomerates raking it in from the demographic dividend.


Let us start on a lighter note, the actor. Aamir Khan spares no opportunity in showing how much he cares about serious issues that afflict the common India - through carefully orchestrated apperances, stunts and film promotions. While many were singing second-rate poems about 'Pipli Live', few cared that the film's directors distanced themselves from the film, protesting Aamir Khan's efforts to hog all the limelight and his 'creative' interference with film making.


Now, let us talk about Ratan Tata, the Indian businessman who can do no wrong - who made the smallest, cheapest car for us. A car that bombed (and sometimes, burns for no apparent reason). You all must read the latest article in Tehelka about how Ratan Tata's appeal in the Supreme Court can lead to silencing of the common Indian's voice and power.

Shoma Chaudhary writes about the two ironical stances taken by Ratan Tata since the Niira Radia tapes became public.

1. Bannaa republic is upon us.

In an interview to Shekhar Gupta, editor, Indian Express, he has bemoaned the “banana republic kind of attack on whoever one chooses” the tapes triggered. He’s warned those who leaked the tapes that they stand in danger of destroying the nation by clouding the ‘investment climate’ and has asserted that such people should “consider themselves not as heroes of the nation but in fact as one of the villains who would bring down this nation after the good that is being done”.


Disappointingly, he also said that “a banana republic kind of an environment could emerge” not from the excesses of crony capitalism but, to quote, “if we don’t put an end to this kind of thing [ie, leaking phone taps] and under the guise of freedom of speech or the guise of many other so-called rights of democracy, we abuse the luxury of a democracy”.

2. Petition in Supreme Court seeking to block the publication of any further tapes or transcripts that might emerge

Although only 104 out of approximately 5,800 phone taps have been leaked, Tata has asked the SC that all existing tapes and transcripts should immediately be withdrawn as an infringement on his right to privacy.
Governments are especially kind to rich and the powerful. Thus, already the government has ordered an investigation into who leaked the tapes.

Tata's argument in the SC:

His contention is that even if phone taps become necessary for any investigative agency, the findings should either be restricted to the original mandate of the investigation, or be pursued solely by an investigative agency and there should be a penal clause against any disclosures — both for those who disclose and those who publish them. His argument is that no whistleblower should be allowed to turn private conversations — even if they pertain to public interest — into a media circus. The country must rely on its institutions.

How this affects the future of the Indian democracy:
Shoma writes:

Tata’s move can have far-reaching consequences for Indian democracy and has triggered a crucial debate on what constitutes privacy and under what circumstances it should be sacrificed for public interest.

In case of the Radi tapes, she explains:

Except for an extremely tiny percentage — casual talk of a Jaguar and a black gown, for instance — none of the Niira Radia conversations are about personal issues: instead, they expose the debilitating overlaps that have built up between the media, vested corporate interests and government policy.

She points to the power of whistle-blowing in India:

There is a powerful X-factor that catalyses punishment and redressal in India: public opinion. Whistleblowing is a key part of that process

This is not the first time, we have seen the two faces of Ratan Tata. Shoma writes about the Singur case:

When his Nano factory was repulsed from Singur, Tata had written an open letter to the people of Bengal rebuking them for their indiscipline and unruliness. What he forgot to mention was that until the people of Singur and Nandigram rebelled and gave their blood to defend their land, neither the Indian Parliament nor the corporate czars who were “building India” had bothered to even draft a Relief and Rehabilitation Bill that would ensure those who were turfed out of their land through the draconian Land Acquisition Act would get their due. It took the unruly people of Bengal to ensure that. The point is, public outcry can often be the most crucial brick of a democracy. And the key to social justice.

The point is: Ratan Tata is a businessman, after all. He is a successful businessman. He has access to the powerful politicians and powerful newspapers. But he isn't necessarily right. Don't let people like him (and goody-good Aamir Khan) hijack the whole Indian democracy in name of legal speak (privacy etc.), Indian growth story, Indian pride or whatever PR people might come up with. For if businessmen win with the bigger national issues, Indian people lose.

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