You too, Ratan Tata? When Bajaj and Parle G stand up to trolls, why can’t you?

Tatas had stood up to blackmail by trade unionists and terrorists but have chosen to surrender to trolls. The capitulation and withdrawal of beautiful Tanishq advertisement does the House no credit

Photo Courtesy: Social Media
Photo Courtesy: Social Media

Sujata Anandan

Less than ten years ago as India was prospering under the Manmohan Singh regime, I remember Ratan Tata telling a television interviewer he wished he was 20 years younger to be able to fully enjoy the prosperity of India.

We had among the best GDP in the world, and India was headed towards the best stage in the economy, he said and added that you really had to be young and ambitious to enjoy all that. He was regretful that he was a bit older but it would be a good 20 years for people, he said, quite gung-ho about the younger citizens.

Six years later, I wonder what Tata is thinking about the youngsters in this country, if he really wishes to leave behind the kind of dark, gloomy India we have become, what with Hindu-Muslim conflicts and a whole gamut of youngsters unwilling to tolerate harmony and unity.

The kind of contretemps that took over a simple and beautiful ad showing a Muslim family celebrating a baby shower of their Hindu daughter-in-law should have been unremarkable at other times from the Nebruvian era to the days of Dr Singh. But the manner in which bigots trolled the jewellery brand and targeted its Muslim brand ambassador forced Tanishq to withdraw the advertisement in a matter of hours and the Tata group to capitulate to blackmail though they claimed that employee and store safety made them do so.

You too, Ratan Tata? When Bajaj and Parle G stand up to trolls, why can’t you?

I am disappointed that such a huge brand does not have the spine to stand by its own beliefs and philosophies and I think it is not just the advertisement that has made them cave in. Ever since the BJP came to power, the party has bent the rules every which way and blackmailed big industrialists and small, and it is sad that the Tata group, which has stood tall in this country for a century or more today finds it lacks a backbone, safety of employees notwithstanding.

Both Bajaj and Parle G brands have withstood pressure, so has food aggregator Zomato and taxi company Ola, all of whom refused to surrender to trolls and bigots and did not suffer the worse for it. Social media pressures have become a reality these days but if others can stand, so could one of the leading companies of the world.

What were the Tatas afraid of in this regard? It cannot simply be a matter of an advertisement for I think if all the other companies could take on the bigots and lose nothing in sales, so could they. However as noted journalist and economist Arun Shourie told some of us, many industrialists are supine and afraid of taking on the government. “Everybody else may have a spine but industries invariably do not,” he had said.

However, there are three industrial houses who are particularly obligated to the current dispensation. I was told by many small and medium enterprises in Gujarat while Narendra Modi was chief minister that out of turn favours were given to Adanis, Ambanis and, yes, Tatas; and that seems to be the singular reason why at least the last has not been able to wriggle out of their obligations to the government.

Which is unfortunate because as far as I can remember the Tatas were a neutral house setting up electoral funds for political parties of all hues, fair to all and favouring none. Now, however, Ratan Tata is obliged to keep Modi in the loop on even internal decisions by his company – if he does not, some government eyebrows are likely to be raised and in today's era can anyone afford to alienate Modi?

Tatas have a genteel history of philanthropy with so many institutions named after them. They are the leaders of the community ever since I have known and two recent incidents remind me that Ratan Tata was not so supine several years ago.

When Sharad Pawar was chief minister of Maharashtra, the Tata group came up for blackmail by some trade unionists and shareholders. Pawar intervened but Tata stood firm, refusing to give in to the blackmail. There was a lot of fire and fury but ultimately Tatas won out. Some years later, when Tata Tea was under fire by terrorists in Assam, he stood firm again, refusing to cave in and making no compromises with the government.

But if Tanishq now feels compelled to give in to bigotry, I wonder how much the culture in that group has changed and why it is so frightened of trolls. Admittedly, social media is a very hostile medium but if ordinary women, including some journalists, can withstand rape and other threats on these platforms, I would have thought the Tatas would dig in their heels and refuse to capitulate. But ultimately, it’s to be all about money -not only that, Tanishq is the finest brand of jewellery in India but the company has its fingers in several pies, -those pies belong to the government and the group would not like to endanger its bottom lines.

So why do Bajajs, Parle and Zomato have the courage to cock a snook at the bigots despite having their own bottomline to guard? I think it is a matter of ideology and commitment. A businessman friend of mine once told me, a relative of his who hated the then Prime Minister from the bottom of his heart, nevertheless invited the PM to inaugurate a new factory. The PM was charming, he was gracious but after the PM left, this friend asked him how he had got over his paranoia. “I didn't, “the relative said. "Asking the PM to come here got me two things – the envy of fellow travellers and a road to my factory, which would never have got built if the Prime Minister had not visited. I might hate the PM but I am not going to allow that hate to prevent my profits.”

Hate and profits. Somehow the two things have been turned on their head but I expected at least Ratan Tata to stand firm and not give up on India.

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