On the 12th September Lord Bilimoria delivered the Asian Development Research Institute (ADRI) Foundation Lecture in Patna. In the lecture, which has previously been delivered by Nobel Laureates Amartya Sen and Joseph Stiglitz, Lord Bilimoria discussed the role of Jamshetji Tata and the contribution of Parsis in the Indian freedom struggle. Drawing on his personal experiences as a Zoroastrian Parsi, Lord Bilimoria talked passionately about the role that the Parsi minority has had in business both in India and the UK. He also highlighted how the struggle of Tata, both as a visionary businessman and as a freedom fighter, was representative of the struggle of the Parsi minority and closed with words by Mahatma Gandhi, stressing both their general importance, as well as the specific resonance they hold for the Zoroastrian community.
Asian Development Research Institute (ADRI) Foundation Lecture 2015
Role of Jamshetji Tata: Contribution of Parsis in Indian Freedom Struggle
Lord Karan Bilimoria
September 12, 2015
Patna, Bihar, India
Thank you, Professor Mukherjee, for that kind introduction and very well-researched introduction, and to Dr. Shaibal Gupta, thank you for your kind words earlier, and Chair, Dr. Gopa Sabharwal, thank you for chairing this event, and also Professor Prabhat Ghosh. It’s a great privilege for me to deliver the ADRI Foundation Lecture 2015. Thank you, Dr. Shaibal Gupta, and thank you, the Asian Development Research Institute for asking me. It’s a little daunting to follow the last three lecturers, my colleague in the House of Lords, Lord Meghnad Desai. We regularly speak in debates together. In fact, last week, we were speaking in a debate on productivity in the UK and he spoke from the perspective of a Labor Peer and I am an Independent Crossbench Peer. Professor Joseph Stiglitz, Nobel Prize-winner; Amartya Sen, another Nobel laureate, someone I am privileged to have known for many years. I have known Dr. Shaibal Gupta now over the past four years and I have seen the wonderful work that he does with his team at ADRI, including producing every year the authoritative and hugely comprehensive annual Economic Report on the state of Bihar. The state of Bihar and India are truly fortunate to have you, Dr. Gupta, and ADRI, doing the wonderful work which you do.
Yesterday, I attended the annual Cambridge University India Board meeting held at the Taj Mahal Hotel in Mumbai. Now, before I go any further, Cambridge University has recently celebrated 800 years but that is nothing compared with Nalanda University which was closing down when Oxford and Cambridge were starting 800 years ago. So, thank you for chairing this, Vice-chancellor of Nalanda University, Dr. Gopa Sabharwal. The meeting yesterday of the Cambridge University India Board was chaired by our Vice-chancellor, Sir Leszek Borysiewicz, along with our Board members, my fellow Board members, including Ratan Tata, and I have known Ratan for many years and I told Ratan that I would be delivering this Lecture today about his famous ancestor, Jamshetji Tata. The Tatas have a long association with Cambridge. My oldest son, Kai, is about to start his undergraduate Tripos at Gonville & Caius College, Cambridge. Gonville & Caius is famous for its 13 Nobel Prizes. In fact, Cambridge University has been, I am proud to say this, I am biased but this is the fact, has been awarded more Nobel prizes than any other university in the world, 90 (nine zero) Nobel Prizes, and Gonville & Caius College is also, of course, famous for being the college where Professor Stephen Hawking has been a Fellow now for 50 years but Gonville & Caius is also well-known because that is where Sir Dorab Tata studied, that is where Homi Bhabha, the father of India’s atomic program studied.
After the Board Meeting yesterday at the Taj Mahal hotel in Mumbai, I was speaking to my friend who taught me at the London Business School, Professor Nirmalya Kumar. He is now the right-hand man of the Head of Tatas, Cyrus Mistry, and asked him, “What would you say about Jamshetji Tata, and he said, “I would sum it up by saying that in his time he was a visionary, decades ahead.” The title of this lecture is the role of Jamshetji Tata in the contribution of Parsis in India’s freedom struggle. Jamshetji Tata was a Zoroastrian Parsi descended from a family of Zoroastrian priests and there is much to be said about a religion that is founded by a Prophet speaking of the eternal Truth and that Prophet, of course, is the Prophet Zarathustra and the Greek name for Zarathustra was Zoroaster.
In Europe at the moment, as you are probably all aware, we are in the midst of a refugee crisis emanating from the awful situation in the Middle East. I, myself, am a descendant of refugees. After the Muslim conquest of Persia over a thousand years ago, some of the Zoroastrians fled what is today Iran and sought refuge in India. They landed in Gujarat on the west coast and asked the local king if they could settle. He said no as there was no room in his country. The Head Priest of the Parsis asked to meet the king and when the priest met the king, he asked for a glass and then he asked for some milk and he asked for a tea spoon of sugar. He poured the milk into the glass and filled it to the brim and then he gently added the tea spoon of sugar into the milk without spilling a drop and stirred it in the milk without spilling a drop and he said to the king, “We will be like the sugar in the milk.” We will sweeten your community and your kingdom and the king let the Parsis in and the rest is history.
Bihar is not only one of the largest states in India but is also one of the most ancient with a proud history. Bihar is the home of Emperor Ashoka whose headquarters were here in Patna, the headquarters of the Mauryan Empire, the greatest of the ancient Indian empires. Emperor Ashoka converted to Buddhism in 263 BC and, of course, it is in Bihar where Gautama Buddha founded Buddhism, obtaining enlightenment in Bodh Gaya and to quote Gautama Buddha – he said, “Do not believe in anything simply because you have heard it. Do not believe in anything simply because it’s spoken and rumored by many. Do not believe in anything simply because it’s found written in your religious books. Do not believe in anything merely on the authority of your teachers and elders. Do not believe in traditions because they have been handed down for many generations, but after observation and analysis, when you find that anything agrees with reason and is conducive to the good and the benefit of one and all, then accept it and live up to it.” That is what Buddha said and this is similar to the philosophy that Zarathustra proclaimed well before Buddha, around 1500 BC.
One of the greatest Zoroastrian scholars was Professor Mary Boyce. She said that Zoroastrianism is among the oldest of the revealed world religions and it has probably had more influence on Mankind directly and indirectly than any other single faith.
Rabindranath Tagore, the Nobel Laureate said and I quote him, “Zarathustra was the greatest of all the pioneer Prophets who showed the path of freedom to men, the freedom of moral choice, freedom from blind obedience to unmeaning injunctions, freedom from multiplicity of shrines which draw a worshipper away from the single-minded chastity of devotion. To those surrounded by the believers in magic rites, he proclaimed in those dark days of unreason that religion has its truth in its moral significance, not in external practices of imaginary value, that is to uphold Man and his life of good thoughts, good words and good deeds.” That was Rabindranath Tagore.
In many respects, history is comprised of threads that bind memories of the distant past with the present today. What connects modern aspects of faith with the religion of Cyrus the Great and Xerxes? The British Empire is the largest empire the world has ever known. However, and that is by area, however, in 480 B.C., it is estimated that 50 million people lived in the Achaemenid Empire, approximately 44% of the world’s population at that time. This figure would make the Persian Empire the largest ever in world history in terms of percentage of the world’s population at that time and we look upon Cyrus, Cyrus is referred to as Cyrus the Great, the harbinger of one of the greatest empires of the Asian world and Cyrus is renowned for two things. The first is the Cyrus Cylinder, perhaps the first recognizable, modern legal instrument. In the United Kingdom, we consider the vital role of Magna Carta and when giving tours of the Houses of Parliament, I always point out to the facsimile copy we have of the document in the Content voting corridor of the House of Lords and in terms of European history, it is very august. The Magna Carta was actually sealed in 1215 and this year is the 800th anniversary of the Magna Carta and people rightly recognize the Magna Carta to be the first Bill of Rights. It sets out clear powers and authority of the Barons over the King as well as serving the vital role in the establishment of the House of Lords and thereafter the House of Commons, a Parliament free of direct control of the Monarch. However, although the British are very proud of the Magna Carta, it is juvenile compared to the Cyrus Cylinder, the declaration found in the ruins of ancient Babylon that sets out the great deeds and genealogy of Emperor Cyrus the Great.
Created in around 530 B.C., the Cylinder notes the most important aspects of Cyrus’s great humility and tolerance which form vital aspects of the entire tradition of the Zoroastrian faith and this is what you have got to take in mind when one considers the role that Cyrus played, not just in the protection but also the active promotion of many different religions and faiths that flourished in the Persian Empire during this time. It cites building projects in the territories it conquered and I quote, “I rebuilt sanctuaries and chapels that lay in ruins. The deities of Sumer and Akkad that Nabonidus had to the fury of the people brought to Shuanna I returned unharmed to their rightful sanctuaries. I returned all the deities to their sanctuaries and restored their temples.” The Cyrus Cylinder is rightly seen as a major artifact for world history representing the first detailed look at statecraft within a multi-ethnic society. There is a direct link between the protection patronage of the Zoroastrian community under Cyrus as well as the role that they enjoy in India, the United Kingdom and around the world today.
Secondly, Cyrus is known for his magnanimity, a specific example being that concerned with the refuge that he gave to the Jews in Egypt. The Old Testament and the Torah both note this and I read from a passage of the Book of Ezra, “Thus sayeth Cyrus, King of Persia, ‘the Lord God at Heaven hath given me all the kingdoms of the Earth and He had charged me to build Him a House at Jerusalem which is in Judah.” It is important to note that neither Cyrus nor the major … priests in his court who acted as advisors sought to convert the people of the conquered lands of Zoroastrian faith. As a figure, Cyrus was determined to ensure that the territories he conquered, often lands that had been under the domination of other empires, had their traditional forms of worship and religious practices restored to the people who lived there. Babylonians and Jews alike considered Cyrus as being on a mission from their individual concept of God. His ecumenical approach remains one that is difficult to fit into the historical paradigm. By the standards of the day, Cyrus and his fellow Persian monarchs were almost unique in the way that they practiced one faith was actually accepting the right of subjects and client-states to practice another faith. To the present day Zoroastrians, it actively sets out to ensure that all individuals have a right to follow their ancestral faith given that belief is fundamental part of a person’s heritage and spirit.
Now, if one wants to reflect upon the legacy of Zoroastrianism, let us consider the religion of the great ancient western empires. The Greeks and Romans are seen as the founders of European culture but their polytheistic beliefs have died out. The Catholic Romans and Orthodox Greeks today do not have that same thread of history going through them. Although Zoroastrianism was suppressed in Iran, it still exists there and in a Diaspora ranging from India to the United Kingdom to the United States, there is a historic unbroken link between the religion of the ancient Persians and the community that I am proud to be a part of today. The Zoroastrian community around the world, though scattered, has survived away from its ancient homeland, yet still holds such a strong historical link and thread to the past that it’s arguably unsurpassed in world history.
The legend of the milk and sugar which I have spoken to you about is apocryphal but it retains a great historical basis. The Parsi community survived by preserving a racial connection through the paternal line in India and also by a strict preservation of the religion. This is thanks to a mutual understanding. There was a tolerance of the Indian king but also the direct role that the Parsis played by not practicing and evangelizing religion. They were not considered a threat to the established order.
Although the Parsis largely remained outside of the historical narrative from their arrival in India over a thousand years ago, they only rarely adopted a prominent role after the arrival of the British. Their emergence and success with the British comes from a number of factors. Firstly, there is this religious role, Zoroastrianism on the development of their cultural, economic and social behavior. We must consider the position of the Zoroastrian scriptures, the Gathas, on this, not least one of the great defining characteristics of the vital role that great deeds and hard work play in life and I quote, “By thy perfect intelligence, Mazda, thou didst first create us having bodies and spiritual consciences and by thy thought gave ourselves the power of thought, word and deed, thus leaving us free to choose our faith at our own will.” In December 2013, I was one of the few Peers privileged to speak in the tribute to Nelson Mandela in the House of Lords. When he was imprisoned on Robben Island, Mandela often recited the poem “Invictus” by William Ernest Henley to his fellow prisoners and the poem concludes with the lines “I am the Master of my faith. I am the Captain of my soul.”
The practices entrenched and entrenched behaviors of Zoroastrian Parsis have led to the community becoming one of massive achievers and a tradition of serving the wider community. One could argue that this concept of being part of a wider social entity in India could have arisen out of necessity given that the Parsis having to find a safe haven after their persecution in Persia, but I believe it predominantly comes from our inherent religious beliefs and practices. The threads of history continue to demonstrate this. Cyrus was magnanimous when he was all powerful and he didn’t have to be and later Zoroastrians were allowed to flourish under the Mughal emperors like Akbar and the British Raj by that same aspect of tolerance.
When I was with the Nobel Laureate, the Archbishop Desmond Tutu in Cape Town, he is a Fellow of my college at Cambridge, Sidney Sussex College, so when we address each other in our emails, it is “Dear Fellow Fellow” and he responds “Dear Fellow Fellow” and I asked him what was the most special aspect about Nelson Mandela whom he knew so well and he replied by saying, “Nelson Mandela was magnanimous. Mandela was the embodiment of the African concept of the word “Ubuntu”. My wife, Heather, is South African and we go to South Africa regularly. Nelson Mandela said that “Ubuntu” does not mean that people should not enrich themselves. He used the term in a speech and said and I quote,” The question therefore is – are you going to do so to enrich yourself in order to enable the community around you to be able to improve?” “Ubuntu” is about human nature. It is about humility. It is about human kindness. It is about community and the Parsis demonstrate this so well and of course, Nelson Mandela was a great admirer of Mahatma Gandhi. Mahatma Gandhi had a huge influence on Nelson Mandela and Gandhi famously said, “In numbers, Parsis are beneath contempt but in contribution, beyond compare”. Parsis have always been renowned for their magnanimity. When I was appointed 12 years ago as the first person of Indian origin to be the UK Chair of the Indo-British partnership, now the UK-India Business Council which I founded, the Indian co-Chair at that time in 2003 was Narayan Murthy, the founder of Infosys. The first thing Narayan Murthy said when he met me was “I have never met a bad Parsi”. Most importantly, Parsis are seen as people who are trusted and this comes back from the founding origins of our faith. Parsis are respected by others. They have flourished and continue to do so in India and the UK.
The Zoroastrian Trust Funds of Europe, ZTFE, of which I am proud to be a patron was founded in 1861, making it the first and the oldest of the Asian faith-based organizations in the UK. Dadabhai Naoroji was a founding member and Mahatma Gandhi used to attend its events in the late 19th century. In 2012, I was very proud to have led the first debate on Zoroastrianism in the House of Lords on the occasion of the 150th anniversary of the ZTFE.
However, tolerance has not always been ubiquitous. For example, in British India, there is the discrimination that Jamshetji Tata found while establishing the vast conglomerate that takes his family name. When he was not allowed to enter a leading hotel in India because he was a native, he then decided to build the Taj Mahal Hotel in Bombay where I was yesterday and where I stay in Bombay. It eventually opened in 1903 to become the best hotel in India at that time and today, it is one of the best hotels in the world. When Dadabhai Naoroji, the first Indian to sit in the House of Commons in 1892, when he first decided to contest a seat in Parliament, he found himself being attacked from representatives of all parties because of his ethnicity and his background. The Prime Minister at that time, the ancestor my friend, the current Marquis of Salisbury, the Prime Minister, the Marquis of Salisbury said, “However great the progress of Mankind has been and however far we have advanced in overcoming prejudices, I doubt if we have yet got to the point where a British constituency will elect a Black man to represent them”. Those were the words of the Prime Minister of the day and age. Reports of the reaction to his speech were mixed with some noting laughter, others cries of shame. However, it was certainly controversial and isn’t it ironic that Naoroji was fairer in complexion than the notoriously ruddy-faced Salisbury was. The Prime Minister never apologized for the remark although he would later invite Naoroji to become a member of the governing body of the Imperial Institute. Despite these problems, Naoroji was eventually elected MP for central Finsbury by a narrow margin, giving him the nickname “Narrow Marginji.” In his maiden speech, he talks of his thanks of being elected. Central Finsbury has earned the everlasting gratitude of the millions of India and it has made itself famous in the history of the British Empire by electing an Indian to represent it. Its name will never be forgotten by India. This event has strengthened the British power and the loyalty and attachment of India to a 10-times more than sending out of 100,000 European soldiers would have done. I thank you, Sir, for allowing me to say these few words and the House for so indulgently listening to me and I hope that the connection between England and India, which forms 5/6ths of the British Empire may continue long with benefit to both countries.
Before I made my own maiden speech in the House of Lords 9 years ago, I referenced the Zoroastrian community and I also read Naoroji’s maiden speech which I keep every day on my desk in my House of Lords office. In my speech, I spoke about the Zoroastrian community when I became the first Zoroastrian Parsi to sit in the upper chamber in 2006. Again, the thread of history connected me with Naoroji, with the Zoroastrian Parsi members of Akbar’s court and with the Zoroastrians of the time of Cyrus the Great and I noted the role played by this community. Some people fail because of, others succeed in spite of. In spite of our tiny numbers, I am so proud of what our tiny community has achieved not only in India but also by producing the first and only 3 Indian MPs in Britain before India’s independence and in 2013, I was proud to launch for the first time in history the Zoroastrian All-Party Parliamentary Group in the British Parliament. There is no way our first three Indian Zoroastrian MPs: Dadabhai Naoroji, Sir Mancherjee Bhownagree and Shapurji Saklatvala would have been allowed to do this a century ago. This year, in January, Prime Minister Narendra Modi decided to honor the Tata Group founder, Jamshedji Nusserwanji Tata, by releasing commemorative coins to the 175th anniversary of his birth. This was a first for an industrialist where coins were minted by the Prime Minister in connection with his “Make in India” campaign and Jamshetji was chosen by the government because he is regarded as the father of Indian industry for setting in motion what became Asia’s first integrated steel company despite the hostile investment environment of a colonized India and his own failing health and in the past, Jamshetji has been honored by the Indian Posts through release of stamps, one in 1958 to mark the Golden Jubilee of the steel industry in India, another in 1965 in recognition of his contribution to the industrialization of India but so far, coins have only been minted in India in honor of the freedom struggle, freedom fighters, events, scientists, temples, institutions and organizations and the Parsis played a very prominent role in India’s freedom struggle.
The known Indian woman, revolutionary circles in Europe was Bhikaji Cama, belonging to a wealthy Parsi family of Bombay. At the age of 27, she became active in nationalist politics attending the Congress sessions in Bombay. She visited Europe in 1901 and became a revolutionary nationalist, championing the cause of Indian freedom in Europe and the USA, participating in 1907 in the Stuttgart Congress of the second Communist International, on which occasion she lectured against British imperialism and hoisted the flag in 1947. She stayed in Paris, becoming the center of Indian revolutionary activity in Europe, and was closely linked with the more radical and rebellious Indians. The British intelligence service was conscious of Cama’s influence, reporting in 1913. She was one of the recognized leaders of the revolutionary movement in Paris and this is what Bhikaji Cama said in Stuttgart, Germany in 1907, and I quote, “This flag is of Indian independence. Behold! It is born. It has been made sacred by the blood of young Indians who sacrificed their lives. I call upon you, gentlemen, to rise and salute this flag of Indian independence. In the name of this flag, I appeal to lovers of freedom all over the world to support this flag.”
Nationalist politician Khursheed Framji Nariman, in 1928, was acquitted of criminal charges, after accusing a British official of corruption. A Parsi supporter noted that Nariman could expose the scandalous doings of government departments because of his profession which does not for his living depend upon government patronage or truckling of high-placed individuals and officials. The case itself epitomized the Parsi penetration of the legal establishment on all sides. The Advocate General representing government in the case was also a Parsi, none other than D. F. Mulla. In the late colonial period, legal training offered Parsis both opportunities to join or to critique the state according to their taste.
Dadabhai Naoroji, whom I have spoken of, was called the Grand Old Man of India. He is viewed as the architect who laid the foundation of the Indian freedom struggle. He was instrumental in the establishment of the Indian National Congress and was the President of the Indian National Congress demand three times. The Congress’s demand for “swaraj”, self-rule, was first expressed publicly by Dadabhai Naoroji in his Presidential Address in 1906.
The Tata Enterprises is an entrepreneurial group that led nation building during the crucial years of post-independence India and Jamshetji Tata, its founder, started the visionary company when he was just 20 years old, out of college, and the entrepreneurial acumen of Jamshetji, coupled with his nationalistic outlook, led him to believe that his business success would enrich the nation as a whole. This made him truly unique. The repression of Indians at the hands of British rulers as well as the widespread poverty across the nation was at the root of his philosophy and Tata saw entrepreneurship as the answer to British repression and widespread poverty present in colonial India. He ploughed his profits into various social development initiatives and had a vision for India summed up by the Hindi word “swadeshi”, which means made in our own country, an idea that was part of the Indian independence movement of the early 1900s. He had 4 ideas in his vision. One: setting up of an iron and steel company. Two: generating hydro-electric power. Three: creating a world-class educational institution that would tutor Indians in Science and four: building a world-class hotel. Though his dreams were not fully realized during his life-time, each one of those ideas form a part of an overreaching narrative that would help to educate Indians combat feelings of Indian inadequacy and lay the foundation of India’s nation building program.
Tata believed that in lifting people up through education, giving people the tools they needed to succeed rather than simply catering to the needs of those in poverty. This attitude can be summed up when he said and I quote, “There is one kind of charity common enough among us. It is that patchwork philanthropy which clothes the ragged, feeds the poor and heals the sick. I am far from defying the noble spirit which seeks to help a poor or suffering fellow being. However, what advances a nation or community is not so much to prop up its weakest and most helpless members but to lift up the best and most gifted so as to make them of the greatest service to the country.” The humanitarian principles that the industrialists followed made him believe it was essential to nurture the brightest Indians to help them escape the quagmire poverty. Jamshetji was never convinced by a simple redistribution of wealth and established the J.N. Tata Endowment in 1892 to help Indian students to pursue higher education abroad. Jamshetji’s success in this area meant that at one stage, two out of every five Indians entering the Indian Civil Service was a Tata scholar and I am proud to be a Tata scholar when I went to England for my higher education in the early 1980s, for which I am very grateful. Jamshetji Tata also funded the creation of the Indian Institute of Science in Bangalore, which was established in 1909, to ensure that the country could provide engineers and scientists to realize his ambitions and he and his sons bequeathed much of their personal wealth to charitable trusts. To this day, charitable trusts own 66% of the central Tata holding company, Tata Sons.
Along with fellow philanthropic industrialist of the time, such as Sir Joseph Rowntree, Tata was committed to ensuring that his employees were well treated. Jamshetji left instructions for the development of a model industrial town to be carved out of the jungle for workers, going so far as to specify the construction of wide streets planted with shady trees with plenty of space for lawns and gardens, large areas for football, hockey and parks, as well as areas for Hindu temples, Mohamaddan mosques and Christian churches. The resulting city completed by his son, Dorabji, came to be known as Jamshedpur in what was then Bihar and the Tatas have been in the forefront of labor welfare, have introduced numerous initiatives such as introducing pensions in 1877, the 8-hour working day in 1912, the maternity benefit, 1921 for their employees. These labor reforms helped to set the benchmark for several human resource policies followed by companies today.
Jamshetji’s interest in developing an iron and steel company, stirred after he attended a lecture by Thomas Carlyle in Manchester and Carlyle’s quote, “The nation that controls iron controls gold too”, was said to be chief inspiration for the steel plant. This combined with the discovery of rich iron ore deposits in the village called Sakchi helped to propel his vision. By 1880, his dream of building a steel plant that would compare with the best in the world was steadfast. However, it was a daunting task as the Industrial Revolution sweeping across the western world at that time had not extended to India. Throughout the project, Jamshetji traveled to the United States to study the processes used by steel plants but he faced a stubborn bureaucracy and scorn by senior British officials about his steel plant project. Tata consistently fought against, went forth with plans to develop his Indian steel plant in the face of British criticism. Sir Frederick Upcroft, Chief Commissioner of the great Indian Railways scoffed, “I will eat every pound of steel the Tatas make”, to which Jamshetji’s son, Dorabji responded drily, “If Sir Frederick had carried out his undertaking he surely would have had some indigestion.” The steel plant project was taken forth by Dorab and when Tata Steel began production in 1907, India became the first Asian country with a steel plant of its own. In 1907, and he was determined to do it in 1880. This was the dedication, vision, foresight, long-term view of this great man.
When World War One broke out, Tata provided the steel for Railway extensions that were crucial for the British campaign. The monumental efforts of the Indian troops and support provided by India as a whole during the War was crucial in breaking the myth of White supremacy and showed the Indian populace the true extent of their capabilities and the extent of British reliance on their raw materials and manpower. I was for 6 years the Chairman of the Memorial Gates, next to Buckingham Palace in Hyde Park Corner that commemorates the service and sacrifice of the five million individuals from South Asia, Africa, the Caribbean and Nepal that served in the First and Second World Wars and of those five million, there were over a million Indians in the First World War and over two and a half million Indians in the Second World War. Without the contribution of those Indians, we would not have the freedom and the Free World that we have today. No Indians were allowed to become officers in the First World War. Only the medical, only the qualified doctors were allowed to become officers. All other Indians could only serve in the ranks. It was after the First World War that Britain started to allow 8 Indians per course from 1922 onwards into Sandhurst and my grandfather, Brigadier Bilimoria, was one of those King’s Commissioned officers and then the Indian Military Academy was started in 1936 before the Second World War.
Shapurji Saklatvala was born in Bombay in 1874 into an extremely wealthy family. He was part of the Tata family. He worked for his uncle’s firm, Tata Industries, and played an integral role in the building of the great organization. He moved to England in 1905 in an attempt to alleviate his poor health for quality treatment. He became involved in left wing politics and was a regular speaker for the independent Labor Party. He was also a contributor to its newspaper, “The Labor Leader”. Saklatvala joined the Communist Party in 1921, winning a seat for Labor in 1922, later retaining his seat in the 1924 general election. Saklatvala raised Indian issues in Parliament and it was Jamshetji Tata who persuaded Shapurji Saklatvala in 1903 to join the expedition with Dorab Tata and the American geologist, C. M. Weld, to prospect for iron ore, coal and limestone in the jungles of Bihar and Orissa. These three items are the basic ingredients to produce steel. The expedition was extremely challenging but Shapurji and Charles persevered and were successful in unearthing iron ore and coal deposits in the districts of Chandrapur in what was Bihar. Shapurji was exhausted and his health suffered because of contracting malaria in the jungles. Jamshetji Tata passed away in 1904 and Dorab became the head of the Tata group. Shapurji in 1905 was sent to England to convalesce at the spa in Matlock, Derbyshire and run Tata’s office in Manchester. At Matlock, Shapurji met his future wife, Sally Marsh.
I, too, feel in a small way that I follow in the footsteps of Jamshetji Tata in being a pioneer in Bihar by being the first multi-national in today’s era to enter Bihar in 2011 with my joint venture partners, Molson Coors Cobra, and starting our state-of-the-art brewery in Bihta and Daya Shankar, our General Manager, is here with us today. It is just outside Patna and I am proud to say this is a state-of-the-art, a world class manufacturing unit right here in Bihar which we are very, very proud of.
J.R.D. Tata, he was an absolutely instrumental individual who played a major role in post-independence India industrialization. He was one of the seven architects of the Bombay Plan of 1945, which was a pre-cursor to the Five Year Plans, initiated by Jawaharlal Nehru in 1950. The steel needed to build the Howrah Bridge in Calcutta, the Bhakra Nangal Project, the Damodar Valley Corporation and many more important projects were supplied by Tata Steel. Apart from providing employment in a colonialism-hit country seeking new avenues for employment, Jamshedpur owes its development to the efforts put forward by the Tata Enterprise and of course, JRD Tata was a founder of Air India. The Taj Mahal Hotel built by Jamshetji Tata, which I stayed at, after being denied entry into one of the city’s hotels for being an Indian. It was a monument to Indian ingenuity and enterprise, lavish surroundings, the fact that it was the first building in Bombay to have many, many firsts, an elevator and ice-making. It dispelled myths of Indian people as backward. It was one of the only prestigious places which held Indian and British people in equal esteem, a novel idea at that time which boosted Indian self-worth. The hydro-electric plant set up by Jamshetji Tata’s successors, Tata Hydro-electric Power Supply Company, later renamed Tata Power, is currently India’s largest private electricity company with an installed generation capacity of 8,000 MW.
Jamshetji Tata is remembered for bringing about revolutionary changes in the country as an entrepreneur with a vision. An entrepreneur empowered freedom fighters in a number of important ways. The vitality that they showed ensured that India was one of the first Asian countries to industrialize and the successful businesses that Indian-born entrepreneurs were able to build made India a more confident nation. It showed that Indian people could equal the achievements made by their British rulers and were more than competent enough to be able to develop without interference from abroad. India was no longer solely an exporter of raw material reliant on import of products from industrialized nations but was becoming a nation which was able to successfully process and add value to its raw materials in order to develop products. Tata’s belief that business is sustainable only when it serves the larger purpose in society and the long-term objectives that businesses strive towards is typified as a statement. I quote Jamshetji Tata, “In a free-enterprise, the community is not just another stake-holder to business but is, in fact, the very purpose of its existence.” This view was crucial in improving working conditions in the country and helped give Indian workers their self-respect back. Additionally, the philosophy and determination of Jamshetji Tata to utilize the best and brightest in India to improve the country’s standing bolstered the Indian Civil Service and led the way for future Indian leaders to further develop their country.
With the efforts of great freedom fighters, India, of course, won her independence on 15th of August, 1947 at the stroke of midnight and the motto of the Tata business empire remains the Zoroastrian creed, “Humata, Hukhtra, Pravarshta”, which means good thoughts, good words, good deeds and Jamshetji Tata said, “Freedom without the strength to support it and if need be, to defend it, would be a cruel delusion and the strength to defend freedom can itself only come from widespread industrialization and the infusion of modern Science and technology into the country’s economic life.
On his death, the “Times of India” wrote about Jamshetji Tata, “He was not a man who cared to bask in the public eye. He disliked public gatherings. He did not care to make speeches. His sturdy strength of character prevented from fawning on any man, however great, for he himself was great in his own way, greater than most people realized. He sought no honor. He claimed no privilege but the advancements of India and her myriad peoples were with him in abiding passion” and Dr. Zakir Hussain, the former President of India said this about Jamshetji Tata, “While many others worked on loosening the chains of slavery and hastening the march towards the dawn of freedom, Jamshetji dreamed of and worked for life as it was to be fashioned after liberation. Most of the others worked for freedom from a bad life of servitude, Jamshetji worked for freedom for fashioning a better life of economic independence” and JRD Tata said of his ancestor that “he was a man of destiny is clear. It would seem indeed as if the hour of his birth, his life, his talents, his actions, the chain of events which he set in motion or influenced and the services he rendered to his country and his people were all pre-destined as part of the greater destiny of India.” “No Indian of the present generation had done more for the commerce and industry of India” and that was Lord Curzon, the Viceroy of India, following Jamshetji Tata’s passing away.
Today, in 2015, the Tata group runs over 100 operating companies operating in over 100 countries with revenues of over a 100 billion dollars, employing over 600,000 people and with a market capitalization of well over a 150 billion dollars. It is the only major industrial house in the world with philanthropy as its majority share-holder. As I said earlier, Tata Charitable Trusts, owner of the 60% of Tata Group equity, with the profits funding educational, health, environmental, scientific research, sports and hundreds of development projects, a special chapter of trust in the Indian story over the past seven decades. In the UK, the Tatas are Britain’s biggest private sector employers. They own British Steel Corus. They own Tetley Tea and they own Jaguar Land Rover and I am proud to own a Jaguar. In 2008, when they bought Jaguar Land Rover, nobody wanted to buy that company. Today, seven years later, Tatas have invested billions of dollars in that company, today, they make more profits in one year in Jaguar Land Rover than they paid for the business seven years ago when nobody wanted to buy that business.
My great grand-father, D.D. Italia, came from the city of Hyderabad in India, where I was born. He was an entrepreneur and a member of the Rajya Sabha, the Upper House of India, and he was a man in whose footsteps I am proud to follow in the Upper House of the UK, the House of Lords. I am also proud to have been inspired by his motto, which is on my coat of arms, “To aspire and achieve.” My company, Cobra beer, and I have adopted this as our vision and added to aspire and achieve against all odds with integrity and that is almost a definition of entrepreneurship, if you think about it. You come up with an idea. You want to get somewhere with the idea. You’ve got little or no means. You have got all the odds stacked against you and you go out there and you make it happen and most importantly, you do it with integrity.
The Parsi community, I am very proud of, it’s been able to succeed in a rounded way but also in an impressive way which beguiles our tiny size. We range from great industrialists like Jamshetji Tata to the world’s most famous musicians, Freddie Mercury of “Queen” and the famous conductor Zubin Mehta. We have created great lawyers. A few years ago, both the Chief Justice of India in the Supreme Court and the Solicitor General were Parsis. We can be great military leaders. My own father, Lieutenant General Faridoon Bilimoria was Commander-in-Chief of the Central Indian Army and Bihar came under his command. Other Parsis have risen to the top in the armed forces, including my uncle Lieutenant General Adi Sethna, who was Vice-Chief of the Army, my relative Admiral Jal Cursetji, who was the first Zoroastrian Parsi to be appointed Chief of the Indian Naval Staff, Air Chief Marshal Aspy Engineer and Air Chief Marshal Fali Major were both Chiefs of the Indian Air Force and of course, the famous Field Marshal Manekshaw who was Chief of the Indian Army. This year is the 200th anniversary of the service of the Gurkhas to Britain and India and of course, Field Marshal Manekshaw, was very closely associated with the Gurkhas, and my father, Lt Gen Faridoon Bilimoria, when he retired, was not only Colonel of the 5th Gurkhas’ regiment, not only the Central Army Commander but also the President of the Gurkha Brigade in India that was in charge of all the Gurkhas in India. I was privileged to lead the debate on the 200th anniversary of the Gurkhas in the House of Lords. Field Marshal Manekshaw said, ”if a man says he is not afraid of dying, he is either lying or he is a Gurkha” and of course, other famous Parsis – politicians, including Indira Gandhi’s husband Feroze Gandhi, the prominent Parliamentarian Minoo Masani. The Parsis have always been great philanthropists which I have spoken about, the Tata family, and of course, in sports, Farokh Engineer remains the greatest ever wicket-keeper batsman of all time and I am privileged to count him as a great friend. When I first introduced him to my wife, I said, “This is a childhood hero of mine. In his time, he was the best wicket-keeper batsman in the world” and he turned around and said, “Karan, no, no, no. You are wrong. I was not the best. I was the very best” and then somebody said to him, “Farokh, didn’t you make in a Test Match a century before lunch?” He said, “No, I didn’t. I made it on the first ball after lunch when I hit a six.” That was a great man.
None of our achievements would have been possible without the opportunities this wonderful country, India, has given the Zoroastrian Parsis. Indeed, I could go on and on about Zoroastrians reaching the top and excelling in just about every field and my own experience is not only purely because of encouragement from my family or because we are part of an entire community of achievers. The Zoroastrian Parsis are fortunate in that we are constantly inspired by being part of an exceptional community. I would go so far as to say and I say this humbly, but I say this with pride that the Zoroastrian Parsis are the most successful community in the world in per-capita of achievement.
My great-grandfather was a major inspiration to me. My father, a senior Army officer, was a major inspiration to me. I received also, by a sort of cultural osmosis, inspiration from our ancient history. There is a certain irony that all this goes back in an unbroken thread from a community that was almost destroyed to one that remains tiny to this day. The Parsis are the smallest recognized religious group in the United Kingdom of just under six thousand people out of a population of over 60 million but we retain a sense of pride in our achievements even to the present day. In India, you can go anywhere in India, people will know who a Parsi is and yet, we are just 69,000 out of 1.25 billion people.
The Nobel Laureate, Amartya Sen, who has delivered this Lecture recently, has written at great length about identity. He believes that we have multiple identities as individuals. In my case, I am proud to be an Indian. I am proud to be an Asian living in Britain. I am proud to be British and I am proud to be a Zoroastrian Parsi. Parsis in India are proud to be Indians and Zoroastrians.
Adam Grant, Professor of Management at Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania has recently authored a book entitled “Give and Take: A Revolutionary Approach to Success”. Professor Grant says that there are three types of people in the world: givers, takers and matchers. Although he finds that the majority of givers don’t exceed the accomplishment of takers and matchers, he concludes that even if givers don’t always get the same outcome, when they do rise, they make friends rather than enemies. When I read that, I immediately thought of the Zoroastrian community and Jamshetji Tata. To me, the Zoroastrian community is the living embodiment of the aspiration and achievement of this ancient religion. Good values lead to the everlasting flame of the Zoroastrian community as a wonderful combination of identity and pride.
In October, 2010 Rowan Williams became the first ever Archbishop of Canterbury to visit the Zoroastrian Center in Harrow. He responded to the speech I had made welcoming him and he said, “Lord Bilimoria has used the word “integrity” twice in his speech” and then he explained the word “integrity” and what it means. It comes from the Latin word “integra”, “integra” meaning “wholeness”. Integrity is the ability to hold your life together, not to let it be fragmented, broken up with parts of it hidden and parts of it revealed but rather to be able to stand up in the light, in the truth without fear. You cannot practice integrity unless you are whole. Many misuse the word but the Zoroastrian community is a living embodiment of the term “integrity”. We have gained integrity through proper action and by a strong sense of heritage, identity and an instinctive unarrogant humility and confidence without hubris over centuries. It is this aspect of us, that represents that thread of history and the everlasting flame and I am the Founding Chairman of the World Zoroastrian Chamber of Commerce in the UK. Our slogan is “Industry and Integrity”. “Asha” and righteousness are at the heart of all we set out to achieve. Before I conclude, will you just allow me to use a business analogy: Management is doing things right. Leadership is doing the right thing. Zoroastrians have always, always been about doing the right thing. Jamshetji Tata always did the right thing and I believe that it is Jamshetji Tata’s Zoroastrian identity, Zoroastrian influence, Zoroastrian beliefs combined with his vision, combined with what he created and combined with his legacy that were fundamental to India’s freedom struggle.
I conclude with my favorite saying of Mahatma Gandhi that applies no better than to the Zoroastrian community and to Jamshetji Tata and that is that “your beliefs become your thoughts. Your thoughts become your words. Your words become your actions. Your actions become your habits. Your habits form your character and your character determines your destiny.”
Thank you very much.