Tata’s biggest contribution to India though would have to be the confidence that he instilled in India’s engineers backed by his own conviction that they could produce an indigenous car at an affordable price and his determination to see the projects — both the Indica and later the Nano — succeed. As he himself said in interviews following the launch, he was surprised at the interest that the Nano — priced at just R1 lakh — evoked around the world. That the Nano didn’t sell the kind of volumes it was expected to must have been disappointing for Tata. As must have been the debilitating losses in the telecom piece — an effort to explore new areas in a liberalised economic regime — or the ambitious $12-billion acquisition of the Anglo-Dutch steelmaker Corus which has left Tata Steel hugely leveraged, an attempt at making the group global.
No doubt the Tatas has the financial muscle to foray into new spaces but there was also the appetite for risk; some of the global buys may not have been well-timed, a fact that Tata has graciously conceded. But there’s no doubt many of the buys – the hotels for example – hold out promise. The spectacular turnaround at the loss-making Jaguar and Land Rover bought for $2.3 billion in March 2008 – critics carped that the Tatas would never be able to sell luxury brands in unfamiliar markets –