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Sanjay Gandhi: a tale of the Maruti chariot he could never ride

Arti Ghargi

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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.

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 CreweEngland 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.

Sanjay Gandhi

Image Source: Web

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.

Sanjay Gandhi

Sanjay Gandhi working on Maruti Prototype. Image Source: Web

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.

Sanjay Gandhi

Maruti Unit in Delhi. Image Source: Web

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.

Image Source: Web

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.

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Centre trying to implement ₹900 cr sericulture projects in North East

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Itanagar | The Centre is trying to implement Rs 900 crore sericulture projects in the North East to empower farmers and weavers, Union Minister for Textile Smriti Irani on Friday said.

Launching the Integrated Large Scale Eri Farming in Arunachal Pradesh under North East Region Textile Promotion Scheme (NERTPS) at the state assembly here, Irani said the government has decided to provide financial assistance to 4000 beneficiaries under the scheme in the state.

Irani also assured to impart skill training to seri farmers and weavers under the Samarth Scheme, which was launched for capacity building in the textile sector.

There are 27000 looms and 33000 hand-loom weavers in Arunachal Pradesh.

Initially, the project would cover five districts of the state – namely Papumpare, East Kameng, Siang, East Siang and West Siang.

The union minister said that Eri silk farming would be held in about 1000 acres in the chosen districts.

If any registered weaver wants to upgrade their old looms then the government would give 90 percent financial assistance in buying a new one, she added.

“If the children of poor weaver families want to pursue higher studies either through National Institute of Open Schooling or Indira Gandhi National Open University, the government will bear 75 percent of their fees,” she said.

Union Minister of State for Home, Kiren Rijiju said the traditional weaving culture in the state provides vast opportunity for textile sector and NERTPS is a scheme for women empowerment and employment generation.

Later interacting with the weavers, Irani suggested registration and branding of the loin loom products of every tribe in the state, a Raj Bhawan communique informed.

“This will facilitate access of the loin loom products to international markets,” she added.

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204 lions died in Gir in last two years: Gujarat government

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Gandhinagar | Over 200 lions died in the Gir forest region in the last two years, the Gujarat government told the legislative Assembly on Friday.

Only 27 of these deaths were because of “unnatural” causes such as getting hit by a train or falling into a well, it said.

To a query by Congress’ Bhagabhai Barad, forest minister Ganpat Vasava, in a written reply, said 110 lions and 94 cubs died in 2017 and 2018.

Of the 110 adult lions, 43 died in 2017 and 67 in 2018. Thirty-eight cubs died in 2017 and 56 in 2018, the reply said.

Of the 204 deaths, 27 (21 lions and six cubs) were because of “unnatural causes” such as falling into a well or being run over by a train, the minister said.

Vasava also said that 331 leopards, including 75 cubs, died in Gujarat forests in the last two years, adding the state government was taking various steps to prevent deaths due to unnatural causes.

Some of these preventive measures are building parapets around wells, fencing railway tracks, construction of speed breakers on roads passing through sanctuaries and continuous patrolling, the reply said.

To a question by Congress MLA Pratap Dudhat about the viral infection among lions last year, Vasava said 34 lions died in the last one year due to diseases including Canine Distemper Virus (CDV) infection.

Babesia, Streptococcal bacteria and Gram-negative bacilli infections were also responsible for some of these deaths, the minister said.

The government allocated Rs 21.96 crore for lion conservation in Gir in 2017 and Rs 27.89 crore in 2018, while the contribution of the Union government was Rs 1.92 crore and 1.06 crore for the last two years, he said.

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Rahul offers condolences over spurious liquor deaths in Assam’s Golaghat

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New Delhi | Congress President Rahul Gandhi on Friday offered condolences to the families of those who died after consuming spurious liquor in Assam’s Golaghat district.

At least 30 people, including seven women, died allegedly after consuming the liquor at a tea garden. Fifty others are undergoing treatment at various hospitals, a district official said.

“I am saddened by the incident which occurred in Assam’s Golaghat area. My deepest condolences to the families of the victims. I hope that those undergoing treatment get well soon,” Gandhi said in a Facebok post.

It is believed that more than 100 people — labourers at Salimira tea garden — consumed the spurious liquor on Thursday night, BJP MLA Mrinal Saikia said.

Police have arrested two people in connection with the deaths.

Assam Chief Minister Sarbananda Sonowal has ordered an inquiry into the incident. Two excise officials of the district have been suspended.

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