Though Maruti was Sanjay Gandhi’s brainchild- a crowned prince’s dream, he could never ride the chariot.
We all have heard the childhood fairy-tales about the princes, their chariots and their bravery. The tale of Sanjay Gandhi is nowhere close to such fairy tales, except the man’s notoriety had earned him the tag of an infamous “Crowned Prince”. However, this story is about the Crowned Prince and his Maruti – a chariot he dreamt of but could never ride in his lifetime.
There’s only one word that describes the life of Sanjay Gandhi and the man himself perfectly- “controversial”. Those who have seen him closely remember him as the rebellious, destructive Crown Prince and ruthless, malevolent politician. Some even term him a sycophant for his catastrophic implementation of forced sterilisation and slum destruction. However, this “wild wayward youth” as termed by Pupul Jayakar had another side to him which reflected in his love for cars. As the Congress party remembers him today as a person who championed the need for affordable cars in India, we recall how the Maruti- India’s most popular car was born.
We fondly remember Sanjay Gandhi, visionary leader and an advocate of the poor. He championed the need for affordable cars in India. pic.twitter.com/Y2tPx20gH6
— Congress (@INCIndia) June 23, 2018
After completing his initial education at Welham Boys’ School and then at the Doon School in Dehra Dun, Sanjay Gandhi’s passion for cars drove him to automotive engineering. The adventure junkie was even interested in aircraft aerobatics besides the sports cars. He even worked with Rolls-Royce in Crewe, England for three years. He returned India in 1968 with his brainchild- the idea to produce an efficient and completely indigenous car which will suit India’s middle class and yet not create a big hole in their pocket. As visionary as this idea seemed, what followed after was not less than a nightmare.
How ‘Maruti Motors’ came into existence:
A lot of critics believe it was the result of rampant nepotism which is why the then Indian government, led by Indira Gandhi too supported the idea of producing small car proposed by Sanjay Gandhi. In 1971, Indira Gandhi’s Cabinet proposed the production of a “People’s Car” for the Indian Middle Class. In June same year, ‘Maruti Motors Limited’ was incorporated under the Companies Act. Sanjay Gandhi took charge as the Managing Director of this company.
The humongous controversy around Maruti:
It was after the government awarded a contract to build the cars and the exclusive production licence, that Sanjay Gandhi came under the radar of opposition. Reportedly, the government even issued a letter of intent allowing him to produce up to 50,000 cars in a year despite having no prior experience of building a car, no working prototype, or even a tie-up with a car maker.
Sanjay Gandhi who had by then begun the process of developing a prototype at a shack in Delhi’s Gulabi Bagh felt the need of bigger space. According to a report in motoroids, a few parts were sourced from the Jama Masjid area and a Triumph motorcycle engine was used to propel the car. After making a few improvements the car was even taken to Ahmednagar for testing. The report claims Sanjay Gandhi and his men even made three initial cars since there was only so much space at the garage, Sanjay shifted base to the Laxman Sylvania factory, where they spent 18 months in a separate shed. However, he needed a bigger space.
The then Chief Minister of Haryana, Bansi Lal (who later came to be known as the member of “Sanjay’s Coterie”) offered him land in Haryana. Initially, the Haryana government offered him a land at Sonepat but Sanjay Gandhi wanted a land near Delhi. Thus, instead of Sonepat, he chose a land near Gurgaon. The land was sold to him at throwaway prices. In her book The Emergency-A Personal History, journalist Coomi Kapoor revealed how the land deal was entangled in corruption and many illegal activities that followed. The Gandhi scion and the Indira Gandhi government came under fire over the corruption issue.
Thus, the government and Maruti Motors decided to show the test model as a display of progress. A feasibility test was done on Maruti by the Vehicle Research & Development Establishment, Ahmednagar. However, the car did not pass it as it wasn’t roadworthy. While the opposition got an opportunity to intensify its attack, the public perception too was turned against the Gandhis.
The death of Maruti:
Soon after this, the emergency was imposed in the country and Sanjay Gandhi put the Maruti project on the backburner. He actively participated in the politics and saw a meteoric rise in his political career. So much so, that even without being an elected MP, he commanded authority over the Congress workers and office bearers. His fallout with IK Gujaral, the then I&B Minister is known to everyone. After two years of emergency, Indira Gandhi announced elections in the country and to not anyone’s surprise was defeated. The incumbent Janata government ordered a report on Maruti Motors dealings. Justice AP Gupta, the head of the inquiry commission released a damning report on the whole episode. In 1977, Maruti Motors was liquidated.
The many tales of horror of corruption:
In a chapter on the episode, Coomi Kapoor accused that the Maruti motors resorted to extortion, string-pulling to bend rules, and even blackmail. It only worsened during Emergency. Reportedly, the traders of Janpath were threatened to buy the Maruti shares or face the demolition of their stores.
She further writes that an executive working for the Singhania companies was arrested under the Maintenance of Internal Security Act in November 1975. He was released only after affiliates of the family bought the Maruti Shares. A dealer was arrested under MISA who demanded his deposit back because there was no sign of the car.
The revival of Maruti:
On 23 June 1980, Sanjay Gandhi died in an air crash flying a new aircraft of the Delhi Flying club near Safdarjung Airport. He was performing an aerobatic manoeuvre over his office when he lost control and crashed. The Indira Gandhi government swung back to power in the subsequent election and a year after Sanjay Gandhi’s death the Union government salvaged Maruti Limited. It started looking for an active collaborator for a new company-Maruti Udyog Ltd. This is when the Japanese company Suzuki was contacted to present the design and feasibility of their car. The government had also contacted Volkswagen. When Suzuki learned about it, it left no stone unturned to keep the German company out of the race to produce India’s first People’s Car (Maruti 800). Rest is history. Suzuki presented the government a feasible Design of their ‘Model 796’, which went on to become a success in Japan and East Asian countries.
Though Maruti was Sanjay Gandhi’s brainchild- a Crown Prince’s dream, He could never see it being built. The Maruti that captured Indian Middle Class’ automobile imagination remained a chariot Sanjay Gandhi could never ride.
50 people feared dead as train runs over them amidst celebrating Dussehra near Amritsar
At least 50 people are feared dead in Jora Phatak area of Amritsar where a train allegedlly ran over people burning the effigy on account of Dussehra.
As per various media reports, hundreds of people had gathered around the area for effigy burning, when a train ran over them, trampling many of them including women and children to death. Around 300 people were at the spot watching ‘Ravan Dahan’, sources said.
The officials said that a throng of people Dussehra revellers that had thronged onto the railway tracks while watching burning of Ravana effigy was run over by a train near here, officials said.
Activist Trupti Desai who threatened to stop PM Modi’s convoy, detained early morning
Pune | Women Activist and Bhumata Brigade leader Trupti Desai on Friday morning was detained on her way to Shirdi ahead of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to the religious town of Shirdi in the Ahmednagar district in Maharashtra.
Desai had earlier announced to have a conversation with PM Modi over his silence on the denial of women entry to the Sabarimala Temple in Kerala. She also wanted an explanation over the assault on women journalists at Niilacka base camp covering the ‘Sabarimala entry’ event.
According to local police, Trupti Desai was detained from her house on grounds of ‘preventive custody’ after she warned to block the PM’s convoy if he did not agree to discuss her demands. Speaking on her arrest to a newspaper, Desai said, “No reason has been given to me for this act of forcible detention. I was only told that the order had come from the Pune Police Commissioner. It is ironic that we activists who are striving for the cause temple entry for women are treated in this manner. Why couldn’t the police in Kerala take preventive measures and detain those hate-mongers and troublemakers ahead of the temple entry at Sabarimala instead?”
Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Friday during his visit to the town of Shirdi will perform groundbreaking ceremony for some projects of the trust along with handing over the keys of houses to some beneficiaries of the Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana (PMAY). PM Modi will also participate in functions to mark the conclusion of the year-long Saibaba Samadhi centenary programme organised by the Sai temple trust.
3 terrorists killed in infiltration bid in Jammu and Kashmir
Srinagar: Three unidentified terrorists were killed in a failed infiltration bid along the LoC in Jammu and Kashmir’s Baramulla district, a defence spokesman said on Friday. The Army on Thursday foiled the infiltration bid along the Line of Control (LoC) in Uri sector of Baramulla district, the spokesman said. He said alert troops noticed some suspicious movement along the LoC near Tourna in Boniyar area in the early hours of Thursday and challenged the infiltrators. The infiltrators opened fire towards the positions of the security forces which was retaliated, he said, adding three terrorists were killed in the gunbattle.
The identity and group affiliation of the slain terrorists were not immediately known.
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