It was ironic that the location of Ratan Tata’s last annual general meeting (AGM) as the Tata Group chairman was Kolkata — the city where his dream project, the Nano, almost got buried before Sanand in Gujarat revived it.
But, Tata seemed to be in a mood to forgive and forget. In fact, in a farewell gift of sorts to the people of Bengal, an emotional Tata said he hoped Tata Motors would one day have a factory somewhere in Bengal and that the company would be welcomed to the state.
Speaking at the Tata Global Beverages AGM here on Friday, Tata said, “Only when there is friendliness at the political level, we will think of returning to West Bengal. We are an Indian group. We have no bias and prejudice. The group will not walk away from Bengal,” he said.
While the subtle message to Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee was not lost on anybody, Tata had a special word of praise for the people of the state. “The people here are very warm and friendly. I stayed in Jamshedpur for many years. I have an affinity for this part of the country, which is why we tried to build the car manufacturing plant here. I believe, one day the environment will be more friendly at a political level, like it is at the people level,” he added.
The ‘friendly’ political environment that Tata was referring to is probably an oblique reference to the history that he shares with the current regime. In 2006, soon after the Nano project at Singur was announced, Banerjee started campaigning against it and demanded return of 400 acres to the unwilling farmers, which ultimately led to Tata Motors relocating the project to Sanand in Gujarat in October 2008. The Singur plank — on which Banerjee fought the assembly elections last year — resurrected her political career and routed the Left Front.
Specifically on Singur, Tata said, “It is something that doesn’t bring any sense of anger to me. It brings sadness, as we could not do it here. It is subjudice, whatever the court asks us and the wishes of the Bengal government, we will respect.”
Tata also assured shareholders that the registered office of Tata Global Beverages will not be moved from Kolkata. “It is a Calcutta company,” Tata, who is scheduled to retire in December when he turns 75, said.
Emotions ran high at the AGM. Standing ovation, emotional speeches, garlands, and scramble for autographs and photographs — shareholders did it all, while a smiling Tata was more than willing to oblige.
“It has been an equally emotional meeting for me. I am an emotional person,” Tata said.
Tata was also effusive in his recognition of the contribution made by R K Krishna Kumar, Vice Chairman of Tata Global Beverages. “When he became a director, this company had revenues of Rs 300 crore. Today, it has a revenue of Rs 6,700 crore. It has been his vision and drive that has made this company what it is. I must tell you that Krishna and I have probably had the greatest fusion between ourselves brought on by distress.”
Though this was the last Tata Global Beverages AGM that he was chairing, Tata indicated, at the next he could be sharing space with the shareholders, on the other side. The applause that followed was perhaps the best farewell gift for the chairman.