India Today - - BY WORD - M. J. AK­BAR

We mere na­tion­als have long learnt that the safest way to deal with multi­na­tion­als is to bow in homage and get out of the way. Ever since I learnt, while do­ing a bit of re­search on one of the great ar­chi­tects of In­dia’s free­dom, Sub­has Chan­dra Bose, that the Ford Mo­tor Com­pany of­fered the free­bie of its new V- 8 cars for the use of Congress min­is­ters at the 1938 Haripura ses­sion, rev­er­ence has deep­ened into to­tal awe.

Henry Ford, the epony­mous pi­o­neer of the Amer­i­can au­to­mo­bile in­dus­try, is fa­mous for his assem­bly line; but this was a stroke of ge­nius as an in­vest­ment in good­will. He got cush­ions in place early and firmly un­der the broad pos­te­rior of the fu­ture of In­dia.

This nugget came from Mi­hir Bose’s bi­og­ra­phy of Sub­has Bose. Search­ing for con­fir­ma­tion of Ford’s imag­i­na­tive se­duc­tion in Leonard Gor­don’s mag­is­te­rial work on the Boses, Broth­ers Against the Raj, I learnt that Bose was ac­tu­ally driven to the Congress camp city in a chariot do­nated by a lo­cal wor­thy, har­nessed to “51 lusty bulls”. The trade­mark Congress ve­hi­cle in those days was the peas­ant’s bul­lock cart; it would also serve as the Congress elec­tion sym­bol af­ter 1952. But such sym­bol­ism, lusty bulls in­cluded, was re­served for the last mile. Bose ar­rived at Haripura, a small and till then largely in­ac­ces­si­ble vil­lage on the banks of the river Tapti in Gu­jarat, at the ses­sion hosted by Sar­dar Pa­tel, by car. Gor­don does not state whether this car was a Ford V- 8 or not.

Old Henry Ford, or his ex­ec­u­tives, knew in 1938 what the mighty British Raj could not fathom; that power was shift­ing from one ful­crum to an­other, and the age of em­pire was on the verge of sur­ren­der to egal­i­tar­ian na­tion­al­ism. Ford was in­vest­ing in a re­la­tion­ship with Congress min­is­ters through the ir­re­sistible com­bi­na­tion of com­fort jus­ti­fied by con­ve­nience.

By 1938, Congress had al­ready tasted power, al­though it was no more than a desul­tory sip. Congress had been elected in more than half a dozen British prov­inces af­ter the 1937 polls, but it was still a long way from jumped- up mu­nic­i­pal author­ity in Lucknow to an in­de­pen­dent gov­ern­ment in Delhi. Any­one who be­lieved at Haripura in Fe­bru­ary 1938 that In­dia would be free in nine years was think­ing with his heart, not his mind.

It took a dev­as­tat­ing world war for British re­solve to crum­ble be­yond restora­tion; and this war against Hitler was still 18 months away. If Hitler had not turned out to be a com­pletely homi­ci­dal ma­niac, Bri­tain’s pow­er­ful ap­pease­ment lobby might have kept Bri­tain out of con­flict. Hitler had no quar­rel with British rule in In­dia; he sup­ported it with al­most as much ea­ger­ness as he dreamt of Ger­man rule over Bri­tain. In the long term, no force could have pre­vented In­dian in­de­pen­dence, but it would have been a more vi­o­lent, lengthy process had Hitler not ex­hausted Bri­tain. In one of the great ironies of his­tory, Ger­many re­cov­ered from de­feat in 1945 but the British Em­pire never re­cov­ered from vic­tory.

There is some irony then in the fact that Bose, rad­i­cal and pug­na­cious as ever, chose in his Haripura pres­i­den­tial ad­dress to cas­ti­gate cap­i­tal­ism: “There is an in­sep­a­ra­ble con­nec­tion be­tween the cap­i­tal­ist rul­ing classes in Great Bri­tain and the colonies abroad.” Surely Bose did not think Amer­i­can cap­i­tal­ists were ex­empt. In an­other fas­ci­nat­ing aside, Bose told who­ever was ready to lis­ten that he would not per­mit Ja­panese multi­na­tion­als in free In­dia, even when he was march­ing along­side Ja­panese forces to lib­er­ate his mother­land. The Ja­panese, more fo­cused on the im­me­di­ate, said noth­ing.

The con­flict be­tween the ideal and the prac­ti­cal is at least as old as the ger­mi­na­tion of ideas of what mod­ern In­dia should be­come. Six decades later, we both re­vere Sub­has Bose and drive around in nifty Ja­panese cars, thinly dis­guised by an In­dian pseu­do­nym, Maruti. It is a very In­dian com­pro­mise. We are very good at putting ide­al­ism in a framed pho­to­graph on the wall and get­ting on with life and chas­ing its prag­matic op­por­tu­ni­ties.

Multi­na­tion­als are cool, re­morse­less and con­cen­trated on the profit mar­gin. Politi­cians ful­mi­nate; com­men­ta­tors ser­monise. Ev­ery­one with a voice had some­thing to say about the ghastly erup­tion of vi­o­lence at the Maruti fac­tory in Haryana; its Ja­panese own­ers kept ver­bal in­ter­ven­tion to a min­i­mum, and spoke through an In­dian when they had to. They read chap­ter and verse from the fac­tory rule book, de­manded ac­count­abil­ity for death, and got on with life. Im­pres­sive.

This col­umn is not a plea for Ikea fur­ni­ture in ev­ery In­dian vil­lage in place of the char­poy. This is wist­ful envy on In­de­pen­dence Day, tinged with the hope that one day In­dian busi­ness­men, strength­ened by a cold smile, bereft of self- pity, de­nied their divine right to waf­fle, will do unto oth­ers what some oth­ers have done unto us.

Old Henry Ford, or his ex­ec­u­tives, knew in 1938 what the mighty British Raj could not fathom; that power was shift­ing from one ful­crum to an­other, and the age of em­pire was on the verge of sur­ren­der to egal­i­tar­ian na­tion­al­ism.

SAU­RABH SINGH/ www. in­di­a­to­day­im­ages. com

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