Congress Presidency: A Lesson from Tata Group


K S Sabarinadhan



The contributions made by Indian National Congress to the nation, both during and after the freedom struggle, have been immense and invaluable. Similarly, Tata Group’s role in making India self-reliant is equally worthy of mention. The Group has gone beyond merely acquiring profits to developing employment policies that are progressive, thereby supporting our country in capacity building. Historically, both these entities have a similar trajectory in that their inception, growth, continued existence and contributions have been on par in their respective areas.

As AICC (All India Congress Committee) reaches a critical point in its history, it seems relevant to compare notes, keeping in mind the success of Tata’s administrative policies and their implementation.

The Tata Model

INC was founded by A.O. Hume in 1885, not too long after a visionary named Jamshedji Tata founded Empress Mills in Nagpur, Maharashtra. Jamshedji’s aim was to contribute to India’s attempts at becoming self-reliant. To achieve that, he set about treating his staff as equals, implementing employee friendly policies that were unprecedented in world history. Jawaharlal Nehru described Jamshedji as a ‘one-man planning commission’ for implementing policies that placed India in the global industrial map.

When INC decided to implement policies that would allow India to become self-reliant, it was Tata Group that staunchly supported them. Tata Steel, Tata Power, Indian Institute of Science, Tata Institute of Fundamental Research, Taj Hotel, National Centre for Performing Arts and Air India are some stellar examples of this.

Onward with the Nation

In 1991, after the era of Nehru, Indira Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi, India underwent a major change in its financial policies. While most other major industrial houses either split up or closed down because of their inability to accept the new policies, Tata Group successfully integrated those changes and moved towards further progress and development.

Tata Group, however, had an unwritten rule about the people who would head their companies: for six decades, from 1868 to 2017, the group’s chairpersons were Parsis, members of the immediate or extended family. The longest tenure was held by the hugely respected JRD Tata, winner of Bharat Ratna, who led the group from 1938 to 1991, and his contributions towards making the Group a success are immeasurable. When Air India was nationalised by the Congress, JRD wanted to step down from his post, but continued as the chairman of the group at the behest of Mrs Gandhi.

When old age made JRD step down from his post in 1991, Ratan Tata, a close family member took up the mantle. Ratan Tata has a major say in Tata Group becoming an international economic force. An unexpected move in 2012 saw him at the age of 75, handing over the reins Tata and Sons to Cyrus Mistry, son of Sharpoji Palloji, who was the highest individual investor in the Tata Group.

New Face New Challenges

Unfortunately, this move did not yield the desired results. In a short span of four years, differences of opinion developed at the top level, and Mistry was removed from his position by the board of directors. This led to an open war, both through the media as well as the judiciary, which, to this day, remains a black mark in the otherwise impeccable history of Tata Group.

However, this also led to a revolutionary change in the Group’s administrative policies: for the first time since its inception, an ‘outsider’ was chosen to head Tata Group. N.Chandrashekhar, chairman of TCS instrumental in raising its status to that of a globally respected institution, took over the mantle.

A Time for Conscious Choices

It is now Congress’s turn to make such a conscious choice. Congress, founded on the pillars of unwavering democratic and secular values, is now in its most critical period. The opinion that none of the Nehru family members is going to vie for the post of AICC President is a welcome one, as it underlines the party’s policies. Congress now needs to be led by a thoroughbred congressman who, while upholding the values that the party stands for, can connect with different generations, address the struggles that this nation is now grappling with, and does not compromise on the nation’s democratic and secular policies. I am hoping that this election will pave the way to that.

Unlike Tata Group, the Congress Party is not a commercial entity, nor are its people employees. Yet, the policies Tata Group has adopted seem relevant to Congress in its current context. The Nehru family is admittedly a national treasure, and their contributions in nation building are invaluable. However, as its glory is now on the wane, it is time for an a structural overhaul.

We are all witness to the positive changes that Tata’s new leadership has brought about, even while upholding the Parsi roots and ethos of the Group and accepting its immense reputation and goodwill as assets to build on. Perhaps the Congress party too would benefit from such a change.

(The Malayalam version appeared in the Edit page of Mathrubhumi. Translation by Mini S Menon)

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