When every family has its own car

Updated: Nov 17 2005, 06:45am hrs
Four wheels here do not represent just a car. They represent a robust and thriving industry. Likewise, four wheels is not a reference to my own business. Rather, it is a reference to my area of influence, my own personal medium through which I as an individual can hope to contribute to an empowered India.

I believe that more than anything else, it is business and industry that will empower India. We do need more education, more roads, more power, more healthcare. We require the Indian state to deliver in areas where it has failed to do so. But we have known and discussed these for a long time.

Even when they come, those will only be the essentials. What Indians would also want for their true empowerment are more industry, more enterprise, more competitiveness, more jobs, more commerce, more opportunity, more choicewe want them all quickly.

Cars are a powerful way to build a thriving and robust industry and generate opportunities. In economy after economy, cars have proved to be the force multipliers. They have been the nucleus around which have grown other sectors of the economy. In the US, Japan, Europe and now in China, the car industry has ignited booms in commodities, in manufacturing, in transport, in road construction, services. Above all, it has fostered entrepreneurship. To aspire to put every Indian family on four wheels is to aspire for a prosperous, competitive, confident India.

Every new car that rolls out of a factory in India generates 5.3 jobs across the economy, says an ICRA study. Apart from the service sector, cars create these jobs in manufacturing where they provide even the semi-skilled and the less educated an opportunity to live with dignity. The prosperity that the car industry brings is rarely confined to a state or region.

Marutis sales and service network, for instance, directly employs nearly 30,000 people across 1100 Indian towns and cities, an example of the sheer breadth and reach of the opportunity that the car industry can create. Four wheels is empowerment in another way. It gives ordinary people the privilege of mobility. Gives them more control over their lives, more options, more leisure, more exposure. It fosters warmth and togetherness. I am discovering now that if we do the hard work of reaching out to new areas and customer segments, then even gardeners, mechanics and engine drivers can be persuaded to buy cars. For hundreds of thousands of otherssmall businesses, taxi operators, transportersfour wheels signify more than leisure; they are instruments of livelihood and sustenance.

Even so, the most important empowering role of cars is in the way they are providing mobility to women. More than half the people who have enrolled at Maruti Driving Schools in the last seven months have been women. They are women from all walks of life: working women, students, entrepreneurs. More than half of them are housewives. All these women can now go to work in a car, go to a hobby school in a car, go shopping in a car, drive on their own to visit friends and relatives. I see this as a tiny step forward on the long road to empowerment.

I am glad that people and governments in India are increasingly seeing the empowering role of four wheels. Governments no longer sniff at cars as elitist or as luxury items. They appreciate the car industrys potential to be an engine of growth and competitiveness. That explains the steady reduction in the tax burden on cars. Of the three priority areas of the present governmentagriculture, manufacturing and employmentthe car industry is a key participant in two of them.

Many ordinary folk also no longer shun cars as expensive status symbols they can do without, and embrace them for the improvement cars bring to the quality of their life. That explains why the customer base of cars has deepened and widened across the country. I have chosen four wheels as the weapon for Indias empowerment also because it is the area where I personally can make a contribution. That is an important consideration for me. I am comfortable offering a prescription for empowerment which, while relying on other people and entities to discharge their roles, has a role for me as well. For India to be empowered, each of us has to treat our skill or area of action as more than a livelihood. We have to treat it as a means to make our own contribution to empowering India. We have to resist talking about the darkness, and focus on where and how to light a candle. Because only when we take responsibility will we pave the way for empowerment. Trying to put every Indian family on four wheels is my way of contributing to an empowered India.

(Our special India Empowered stories and columns are available at www.indiaempowered.com)