Luminaries that freed a Nation

India has come a long way since Independence, leaving behind a series of landmarks that define its journey from the agony of Partition to a strong, powerful, and developing nation. Despite the popular opinion, the key to this tryst with freedom has been entrepreneurship. Entrepreneurs and businessmen alike are frequently thought of as national assets to ­be cultivated, motivated, and remunerated to the greatest possible extent. Flourishing businesses are not just a promise of employment, but they have the potential of transforming a society- which is precisely what the leaders of the Indian Industrial Revolution did. This transformation was of paramount importance as India continued to be exploited by the British. For instance, India in the late 1800s was introduced to the steel industry. These revolutionary (pun intended!) times not only put India on the global map but paved the way for Britain’s victory in both the World Wars. Back when the British monopolised almost every Indian industry, business prospects for Indian industrialists were bleak. In such instability, volatility and uncertainty rose ventures that not just revived the post-independence and post-partition economy but they reconstructed it. The dream of freedom that we bore for over two decades was realised by an amalgamation of such eminent businessmen and distinguished politicians. One such businessman was Mr. Jamsethji Tata.

Jamsethji Tata’s (1839-1904) journey to becoming the Father of Indian Industry started when he took over his father’s export-trading business. Always a visionary, in 1868, he saw an opportunity to create a trading company alongside this business. Over the years, this trading company would morph into an Indian multinational conglomerate that manufactures automobiles, airplanes, and many more products! Under Jamsethji Tata’s ambitious leadership, Tata Iron and Steel Company (now known as Tata Steel) became India’s largest privately owned steelmaker. His liaison within the British administration played a pivotal role in establishing a future for the Indian steel and iron industry. In his early years, Jamsethji Tata steered clear of politics. But the turn of events caused him and Motilal Nehru to work in close proximity towards the betterment and, eventually, the freedom of India. A true patriot at heart, he ensured that each venture he carried out had a social impact in addition to the profits. On being refused entry at one of the ‘Europeans Only’ hotels in Mumbai, Jamsethji Tata took it upon himself to deliver India’s first-ever luxury hotel as a global spectacle- The Taj Mahal Palace. The legacy of Tatas did not end here. Under J.R.D Tata, the name Tatas became synonymous with development!

Jehangir Ratanji Dadabhoy Tata (1904-1993) was the aviation pioneer who created India’s first airline and oversaw the dramatic expansion of the Tata Group, India’s largest industrial empire. JRD Tata’s contributions to the development of India go far beyond establishing and nurturing the country’s aviation industry or guiding India’s leading business conglomerate for 50 years. In fact, it was clear that his destiny would be intertwined with India as early as 1926. JRD Tata and Jawaharlal Nehru shared a bond that can be defined as friendship. Over the years, despite their contradictory opinions on several issues, JRD found himself as one of the closest advisors of India’s first Prime Minister. JRD was one of the initial industrialists to advocate family planning as a cautionary measure for the foreseen population problem. He worked actively with the U.N. to spread awareness about the increasing population’s threat to India! JRD sincerely wanted his workers to have a say in their welfare and wanted to include them in the company’s functions. This initiative resulted in the founding of a personnel department- the first corporate Human Resources department in India. JRD Tata was one of India’s most notable philanthropists and worked persistently towards furthering the cause of education!

One of the pivotal events in the history of India was the formation of a cooperative society that celebrated and empowered Indian dairy farmers. This historic organization was named Amul. Soon enough, we would see Amul to be associated as the ‘Taste of India’.  As the founder of Amul- The Taste of India, Dr. Verghese Kurien (1921- 2012) will always be remembered as the person who redefined the meaning of milk as a powerful tool for economic development. He is popularly known as The Father of the White Revolution, which helped India emerge as the largest milk producer globally. He was the founder and chairman of the National Dairy Development Board, the Gujarat Co-operative Milk Marketing Federation Ltd., and the Institute of Rural management. Throughout his professional life, he worked relentlessly to empower the Indian farmers. He helped lay a foundation of democratic agricultural enterprises at their initial stages. His affiliation with Anand Creamery of Gujarat was a turning point in history. On working closely with the dairy industry of Gujarat, he went on to establish India’s first Dairy cooperative society with just two members. Today this cooperative has emerged as India’s largest integrated dairy products manufacturing organization with over 3.2 million members- Amul. His most significant contribution has been the formulation of systems and institutions that enable people’s welfare. He believed that man could best achieve success by putting his efforts towards developmental purposes. Fostering a belief that our people are our biggest assets; he dedicated his life to harnessing the power of people in promoting more extensive interests.

Circling back to one of the earliest national leaders, G. D. Birla was a reformer, an industrialist, and most importantly, a nationalist. Birla joined the world’s largest jute producing region and worked as a jute broker. With an investment of Rs 5 million in 1919, the Birla Brothers Limited was formed. In the 1940s, he ventured into the territory of cars and established Hindustan Motors. He played a critical role in India’s freedom struggle as a confidant of Mahatma Gandhi. G.D. Birla worked with an unmatched passion for India’s economic liberation. In the pre-independence era, G.D. Birla became increasingly confrontational with Britishers due to their ill handling of the Indian industry. This led him to participate in the Indian Non-Cooperation movement actively. In 1925, along with a group of pioneering industrialists, he set up the Indian Chamber of Commerce, which was closely associated with the Indian Freedom Movement, as the first organised voice of indigenous Indian industry. Additionally, he was one of the most influential spokespersons of India’s big businesses. He co-founded the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FICCI), India’s largest and oldest apex business organisation. His initiative is closely interwoven with India’s struggle for Independence, its industrialisation, and its emergence as one of the most rapidly growing global economies. He represented India at the first and second Round Table Conferences in London along with Mahatma Gandhi. In 1945, he was one of the authors of the economic development plan known as the Bombay Plan, a major private sector initiative. In the prime of his career as a businessman, he was established as the foremost industrialist of pre-independence India. His vision paved the way for the foundation of The Aditya Birla Group.

The last two centuries have shaped India and what we stand for today. Our tryst with freedom was not just political in nature; it was societal and economic as well. An article is nowhere near to covering the contributions of the personalities mentioned above or those that have not been mentioned. In a state of extreme disruption, businessmen, entrepreneurs, and industrialists alike led India to where we are in the 21st century. They bridged the gaps of financial disparities and made India a force to be reckoned with. As the British Rule in India was more about gaining economic vantage than geographical or political expansion, I believe that these personalities were also freedom fighters. Because of their tireless efforts, we today call India a free nation- free in its true sense and all its glory.

By Purva Dafle

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