November 23, 2004
New Delhi

PM's speech at the release of a Commemorative Postage Stamp honouring Seth Walchand Hirachand

Hindi Version

"I am truly delighted to join you in the celebrations which coincide with the 121st birth anniversary of a great pioneer of industrialisation in our country - the late Shri Walchand Hirachand. As someone who has for a long time recognised, valued, and cherished patriotism, creativity and enterprise of our business leaders, I am particularly happy to associate myself with this function today. Walchand Hirachand was a dreamer, a visionary, a great builder, a great leader of industry. Above all, he was a patriot, and in his own way, he was an inspiring leader of our struggle for freedom. I salute his memory.

Shri Walchand Hirachand was among the tallest of the second generation of indigenous industrial enterprises in the sub-continent of ours. In youth, he must have looked up to pioneers like Jamshedji Tata for inspiration, for they were already established business leaders of standing, by the time Shri Hirachand began to make his mark. However, by the time, Shri Walchand Hirachand was charting a new course in Indian entrepreneurship, he had few equals, or few peers.

The generation to which Shri Walchand Hirachand belonged was the generation which produced stalwarts like G.D. Birla, Shri J.R.D. Tata, Shri Purushottamdas Thakurdas and the Late Lala Shree Ram - all men of vision and great spirit of enterprise. Yet, there was something unique about Shri Walchand Hirachand. Few matched his passion for innovation and modern technology and a desire to see that these truly strike roots in this country of ours. Indeed, what set him apart from many of his contemporaries, specially the business families of Kolkata and Kanpur was the fact that he was made more in what the economists describe as the Schumpeterian mould of an entrepreneur, always willing to take risks and to move into uncharted waters.

In fact, one of the criticisms levelled against Indian businessmen who entered manufacturing business after the policy of discriminatory protection was introduced in 1932, for that they were essentially merchants and moneylenders, who wandered into manufacturing, that they were more profiteers and rent seekers, than risk takers. This charge cannot be levelled against Shri Walchand Hirachand. He was the classical Schumpeterian risk taker. His entry into the ship building, maritime business and aircraft manufacturing exemplifies this entrepreneurial drive. It is this aspect of Shri Walchand Hirachand that we must then celebrate and honour on his birth anniversary. The glorious chapters in the history of business in the industrial era, how clever businessmen were or are, in making profits but how creative they were in extending the horizons of technological innovation and manufacturing activities. It is not merely on account of the niggardly protection that the British Government chose to hesitantly give in the 1930s, that industrial enterprise was able to strike roots in our country. I believe it was the spirit of creativity and adventure, what Lord Keynes dubbed as 'animal spirits', of a new generation of Indians inspired by Mahatma Gandhi and Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru. That began our journey towards economic modernisation.

Keynes believed that in our world of uncertainties, investment was both an act of faith and also an act of great adventure. I cannot forget even now the evocative description in his magnum opus on what determines investment in a world of uncertainty, where he said, "it is a characteristic of human nature that a large proportion of our positive activities depend upon spontaneous optimism rather than mathematical expectations, whether moral, or hedonistic, or economic, most probably of our decisions to do something positive, the full consequences of which will be drawn up over many days to come can only be taken as the result of animal spirits. The spontaneous urge to action rather than inaction, and not as an outcome of a weighted average of quantitative benefits, multiplied by quantitative probabilities". "Human decisions affecting the future whether personal, or political, or economic", observed Lord Keynes, "cannot depend on strict mathematical expectations, since the basis for making such calculations does not exist.....It is our innate urge to activity and creativity that makes the wheel go around."

I submit to you for your consideration that business leaders like Shri Walchand Hirachand stood apart from others because they demonstrated this innate urge to activity and creativity. This spontaneous urge to action, as Lord Keynes termed it, and was possessed by the animal spirits of enterprise, which guide the course of industrial evolution. They were no crony capitalists, they were no fixers and lobbyists, they were no petitioners and permit-seekers, they did not seek subsidies or quotas, they did not worry too much about the hurdles ahead, for they were determined to triumph and to overcome them. They were visionaries, who thought big and thought into the future of this blessed land of India. They inspired generations of entrepreneurs, who through sheer dint of hard work and creativity, became business leaders of the day. Shri Walchand Hirachand was in the true sense of the term, a pioneer in the establishment of transportation industry in India. Our automobiles, our aircraft manufacturing and maritime activities, capabilities owe a great deal to his pioneering, visionary zeal.

Shri Walchand Hirachand's greatest contribution, in my view, was in shipping and ship-building. He was a visionary in this field. It is indeed, one of the saddest chapters of our industrial policy that we failed to build on the foundation established by Shri Walchand Hirachand in this area. India has had a rich, maritime history and even an impressive history of shipbuilding. It is not a coincidence or an accident of history that the only mass of navigable water named after a people is the Indian Ocean. This is a testimony to India's contribution to the maritime life of waters around us. This rich maritime tradition both in technology and navigation capabilities and in mercantile activities was disrupted by the arrival of the Europeans in these waters. The historians have documented in great detail, our impressive maritime history. Yet, few view India today as a major, maritime economy. There has been a neglect of shipbuilding, a neglect of ports, above all, a neglect of foreign trade.

In the 1940s when Shri Walchand Hirachand was pioneering the establishment of shipbuilding and the shipping activities, he had few peers in Asia. By the 1950s, India was at the forefront of Asian maritime activities. Yet, today we lag far behind not just Japan, but also South Korea and China. We must reverse this trend. I would like to see India emerge as a major trading nation of the world. We must also be a major maritime power. To this end, we must modernise our maritime infrastructure, but we must also modernise our mindsets. The imperatives of trade, the requirements of maritime and energy security and the creative enterprise of our sea-faring people should once again make us a maritime nation of reckoning.

If Shri Walchand Hirachand were here today, he may well mock what he may regard as a new-born enthusiasm for maritime activities, for this was in fact his obsession over three quarters of a century ago. I believe our policy did neglect the external dimensions of our economic engagements by far too long. We began the process of reversing this neglect a decade ago. Perhaps, the process has had its setbacks and has proceeded in fits and starts.

Today, however, there is both, a nation-wide consensus and a mass awareness that this is the direction in which we must move. I am convinced that India to realise its destiny must become a major trading nation, trading both in goods and services.

For the last ten years, successive Finance Ministers have said that our tariff levels should move down and approach ASEAN levels of tariff. We have moved a great deal in that direction, but a lot needs to be done still. I believe that we can accelerate this process now and take steps to enable closer interaction between our economy and the economies of ASEAN region as well as of East Asia.

It is not a coincidence that Shri Walchand Hirachand chose the Visakhapatnam port as the base for his first ship building venture. India has had a proud history of maritime engagement off the Coromandel coast. The port of Bandar, for example, was a major trading port and a link between the empires of Peninsular India and East Asia. Our Look East policy today is doing nothing but rediscovering that past, that glorious past of ours. Yesterday, at Guwahati, I flagged off the India-ASEAN car rally, an initiative of adventure and fun that is also meant to be a business initiative. I hope it will focus attention on the road, rail and air connectivity we need to build with the region around us in the North East. There is also sea connectivity that we must build and, I believe, it is even more necessary for us to more actively engage with the economies to our East.

Shri Walchand Hirachand also distinguished himself as a spokesman of Indian business, constantly asking the British Government to consider his regular suggestions on their behalf. He also helped launch of Indian Sugar Mills Association and the Indian Sugar Syndicate. The two together made sure that the vagaries of market economics did not come in the way of the growth of Indian sugar mill industry. I urge you to consider the life and contribution of business leaders like Shri Walchand Hirachand and draw correct lessons for the growth of private enterprise in our country. We need businessmen who are willing to take business risks. We need business leaders who are willing to tread the unbeaten path, who are willing to be Schumpeterian entrepreneurs charged with Keynesian animal spirits.

Investment is truly an act of faith. However, there is a wide margin of experience within which this faith is shaped. I urge you to have faith in our country and to take calculated, if affordable risks, for the past is unlikely to be a good guide map for the future, as far as the investment opportunities in India are concerned. Private enterprise is beginning to blossom once again in India and I do hope that we can produce more Walchands Hirachands in this generation to take full advantage of the opportunities coming the way of Indian enterprise.

Anyone who examines the regional pattern of economic and social development in India will be struck by the strong, positive co-relation that so visibly exists between the emergence of indigenous private enterprise and the overall economic development of the region. In Punjab, in Gujarat, in Maharashtra, in Karnataka, Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh, industrial development and the consequent urbanisation have helped push their economies forward. This development has been spurred not just by public investment, and the activities of large business houses from Mumbai, Kolkata or Delhi. Increasingly, it is being fuelled by local enterprise and the rise of regional and local entrepreneurs. Visionaries and entrepreneurs like Venu Srinivasan in Chennai, Narayan Murthy and Azim Premji in Bangalore, Anji Reddy and Ramalinga Raju in Hyderabad are joining the ranks of Walchands Hirachands, the Birlas, the Tatas, the Ambanis, the Munjals and the Ranbaxy Group to drive private enterprise and thereby drive growth in their regions.

I draw the attention of our political leaders of State Governments and Chief Ministers to this phenomenon. If the less developed regions of India have to catch up with the more developed, there is no doubt that they need more public investment, but there should be no doubt that they also need more local, private enterprise and the consequent growth of the local middle class. I urge our political leadership at the State level, especially in the less developed States to pay closer attention to the requirement of enterprise so that we can take modern industry and enterprise to these newer regions.

When we celebrate the life of an entrepreneur like Walchand Hirachand, we must draw the correct lessons from his life. The lesson I draw is that the ultimate spur to growth and development is individual creativity and enterprise. We, in Government, can at best create the correct political environment in which that creativity, those animal spirits can flourish and find expression.

To be sure, we must not do anything that will stifle that creativity and our Government is committed to that ideal - of enabling enterprise to find its full expression at home. But in the final analysis, it is really up to you, the captains of industry, to demonstrate your creativity, your sense of adventure, your animal spirits to prove to the world that India can do it. I am sure, when this creativity finds full and free expression, nothing can stop us, nothing can stop a country like India any more."

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