Gandhi & The Tatas – The Tata Tales

May India produce many such Tatas!

Throughout his years Mahatma Gandhi was against capitalism albeit there were a few exceptions to this, including the Tatas. He used to call himself “A Friend of Tatas”.
Let’s recount the Tata’s interactions with the Father of the Nation, Mahatma Gandhi.

Gandhi developed a respect for the Tatas in the lifetime of Jamsetji Tata.
He wrote in 1905 Indian Opinion, a newspaper established by him,

“In whatever he did, Mr. Tata never looked for self-interest. He never cared for any titles from the government, nor did he ever take distinctions of caste or race into consideration. The Parsis, Muslims, Hindus — all were equal to him. For him it was enough that they were Indians. Though he possessed unlimited wealth, he spent nothing from it on his own pleasures. His simplicity was remarkable. ”

Mahatma Gandhi

By then, Gandhi was in South Africa to champion the Indian cause against discrimination. Much of the success of his upcoming Satyagraha in South Africa was owed to the “princely” contributions of Jamsetji’s younger son, Sir Ratan Tata.
Gandhi wrote in the Indian Opinion after the third donation of 25,000 Rupees, “The fact that they are at the back of the struggle such distinguished Indians encourages those who are engaged in it, and probably brings them nearer their goal.”

These ties were what convinced Gandhi, to visit Jamshedpur in 1925 to resolve the labor problems at Tata Steel. Addressing an audience of around 20,000 people at the TISCO Institute (now the United Club). He said, “Believe me, throughout my public service of 35 years, though I have been obliged to range myself seemingly against capita. I may say that I have come here also as a friend of the capitalists — a friend of the Tatas.”

In South Africa, when I was struggling along with the Indians there in the attempt to retain our self-respect and vindicate our status, it was the late Sir Ratan Tata who first came forward with assistance.

“I wish to this great Indian firm all the prosperity that it deserves and to this great enterprise’s every success.”

Mahatama Gandhi
Visit to Jamshedpur

Gandhi had very close association with Jamshedpur. He visited the city 3 times.
Mahatma Gandhi 1st visited the city in 1917 when he was travelling from his Wardha Ashram (Old Age Home) to Champaran in Bihar to address the problems of farmers. In his 2nd visit he laid the foundation of Tata Workers Union office. His 3rd and final visit to the city was a pitstop in 1940 on his way back from Ramgarh Congress.

BJ Padshah A Close Ally

The Tata family’s ties with Gandhi’s causes is likely to have stemmed from his association with BJ Padshah, a trusted lieutenant of Jamsetji Tata.

Courtesy : Tata Central Archives

Padshah was a friend of both Gandhi and his mentor Gopal Krishna Gokhale, and had, in fact, planned to work with Gokhale’s Servants of India Society before Jamsetji convinced him to join the Tatas. He was also a mentor to Sir Ratan Tata, who went on to became the first Indian to finance Gandhi’s movement.

Sir Ratan Tata And His Support To The Nationalist Movement

Sir Ratan Tata’s donations, starting with 25,000 in 1909, played a crucial role in the survival of Gandhi’s Phoenix Settlement, the birthplace of satyagraha; the Tolstoy Farm, and the Indian Opinion, the mouthpiece of the satyagraha in South Africa.

He not only contributed a total of 125,000, in five equal tranches, to the satyagraha, but also supported Gandhi by hosting him at York House in Twickenham when the latter visited England.

Lady Meherbai Tata And The Swadeshi Movement

When Gandhi returned from South Africa to India, his ties with the Tatas continued to strengthen with the support of Lady Meherbai Tata. In 1917, she visited the Viceroy of India with a deputation of prominent women to rally support for Gandhi’s fight against indentured emigration to South Africa. This ‘semi-slavery’ was stopped the same year, more than two decades after Gandhi had drafted the first petition against it.

Lady Meherbai then started learning spinning in 1919 to promote the activity — a key part of Gandhi’s Swadeshi Movement — as profitable and respectable. She also championed Gandhi on global platforms like her speech at Battle Creek College in America in 1927.

RD Tata

RD Tata believed in the ultimate freedom of India. He aided Mahatma Gandhi’s vision of self-rule by providing 1 lakh spindles and other spinning supplies to support the Swadeshi Movement in 1926.

JRD Tata, Gandhi And Their Difference In Opinion

A war of words broke out between two of India’s most exalted personalities of the last century – Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi and JRD Tata. The country was then still two years away from independence. When a team of Indian industrialists decided to visit England and America to study the latest method of production and scientific achievement.

Gandhiji expressed his annoyance and accused the delegation of entering into a “shameful deal”. Bapu continued the blistering attack, “This independence will not come for the asking. It will come only when the interests, big or small, are prepared to forgo the crumbs that fall to them from partnership with the British in the loot which British rule takes from India. “JRD replied that the purpose of the trip was to gain knowledge and experience to help India’s economic development and that India could not afford to stand still while other nations forged ahead.”

It mattered because JRD considered Gandhi “the most extraordinary human being”. He told Tata historian RM Lala, “He inspired in me, as in most people, a mixture of awe, admiration and affection combined with some scepticism about his economic philosophy despite which one would follow or support him to the end, come what may.”

Gandhi did more than lead his countrymen to freedom. He revived in millions of people, here and abroad, the consciousness of the prime virtues taught by every great moral leader of history — love, truth, faith and charity. The best memorial to Mahatma Gandhi would undoubtedly be to live up to the great ideals set by him.

JRD wrote in a bulletin to all Tata employees following Gandhi’s death


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