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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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Bulandshahr violence: Court sent acccused armymen on 14 day judicial custody

News Desk

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Bulandshahr

Lucknow | A local court on Sunday sent the accused army men in Bulandshar violence Jitendra Malik alias Jitu Fauji to a 14-day judicial custody.

Jitendra Malik allegedly involved in the killing of a police inspector during mob violence in Bulandshahr was arrested on Saturday night. “The Army handed over Jitendra Malik to UP STF team in Meerut yesterday late night,” IG STF Amitabh Yash told PTI here today.

On Monday, a mob of some 400 people rampaged through a village in Bulandshahr district apparently after cow carcasses were found in a jungle nearby. During the violence, Inspector Subodh Kumar Singh and a 20-year-old man died of gunshot wounds. Nine people have been arrested in connection with the violence. Earlier Army chief Gen Bipin Rawat said Saturday that full cooperation will be extended in the investigation of the incident

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Pakistan issues visas to 139 Indian pilgrims to visit Katas Raj dham

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Katas Raj dham

New Delhi | The Pakistan High Commission on Sunday said it has issued visas to 139 Indian pilgrims to visit Katas Raj Dham, the famous Shiva temple, in the country’s Punjab province.

Under the framework of a bilateral protocol on visits to religious shrines, Sikh and Hindu pilgrims from India visit Pakistan every year. Pakistani pilgrims also visit India every year under the protocol. “Another group of Indian pilgrims, comprising 139 people, have been issued visas by the Pakistan High Commission to visit Shree Katas Raj Dham in Chakwal district from December 9-15,” the Pakistan High Commission said.

Last month, Pakistan had granted visas to more than 3,800 Sikh pilgrims to visit the country. Some of the pilgrims had attended the ground-breaking ceremony of the Kartarpur corridor on November 28 in Narowal. The corridor will link the Darbar Sahib shrine in Kartarpur in Pakistan’s Punjab province to Dera Baba Nanak in Gurdaspur district in India.

Earlier this month, over 220 Indian pilgrims were granted visas to visit the famous Hindu temple, Shadani Darbar, in Sukkur.  Katas Raj is one of the holiest places for the Hindu community in Pakistan. The temples form a complex surrounding a pond named Katas — which is regarded as sacred by the devotees.

Pakistan’s High Commissioner Sohail Mahmood stated that the issuance of visas for yet another group of pilgrims from India was consistent with Government’s of Pakistan’s policy of promoting visits to religious shrines and was a reflection of its commitment to faithfully implement the 1974 Protocol, the High Commission said in a release. He said that Pakistan remained committed to providing all possible facilitation for the visiting pilgrims and strengthening people-to-people exchanges between the two countries.

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Large number of Muslim women likely to go to Haj without ‘Mehram’ in 2019: Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi

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Haj

New Delhi | A large number of Muslim women are likely to go to Haj without ‘Mehram’ (male companion) next year, Minority Affairs Minister Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi said on Sunday.

Naqvi, while chairing a meeting here with representatives of organisations associated with Haj, said that Haj Committee of India has received more than 2,23,000 applications for Haj 2019 till now. The over 2,23,000 applications include about 47 percent women, he was quoted as saying by a statement released from his office.

Haj application process had started on November 7, 2018, and the last date for it is December 12. Naqvi said that more than 2,000 women have applied to go for Haj in 2019 without ‘Mehram’ with the number likely to go up.

Naqvi said that in 2018, for the first time, the Centre had lifted the ban on women going to Haj without Mehram, which resulted into about 1,300 women going for the pilgrimage without any male companion. They had been exempted from the lottery system and more than 100 women Haj coordinators and Haj assistants had been deployed to assist the Indian women Haj pilgrims, Naqvi said.

For the first time after Independence, a record number of Muslims — 1,75,025 — from India performed Haj in 2018 and that too without any subsidy, he said. Naqvi said that making the Haj process completely digital has helped in making the entire process transparent. For Haj 2019, about 1,36,000 online applications have been received and the online portal for Private Tour Operators (PTOs) is already operational, Naqvi said.

While on one hand, the portal has ensured transparency in the functioning of PTOs, on the other hand it is very beneficial for the pilgrims as they get all the necessary information, he said, adding that the new policy for the PTOs is also likely to be chalked out this year. Naqvi said that the central government, in coordination with Indian Consulate in Jeddah and various concerned agencies in Saudi Arabia, is working to ensure safety and better facilities for the pilgrims.

The bilateral Haj agreement between India and Saudi Arabia is likely to be signed soon, he said.

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