We need heroes, and Minhaz Merchant reminded us of one by celebrating AM Naik, the Nationalist

It is now a critical time for India which, as a budding nation-state and a hoary civilisation, is undergoing through the complex process of decolonisation with ups and downs, forwards and setbacks. It is near-universally acknowledged that India has no dearth of talent and successes, at a private level. However, the critical problem for India is to devise institutions that can succeed. Only then, India as a nation will be recognised and respected.

Devising institutions is a critical challenge. It requires a fair balancing between centralisation and decentralisation, between collective understanding and individual decisiveness, between institutionalising structures (derisively called bureaucracy) and lack of structures (admonished as unprofessionalism). Usually, this job is reserved for statesman and bureaucrats. The Nationalist, therefore, is a term that is typically reserved for statesmen working in governance or ideologues in the political domain.

Can a person from a corporate firm with profit motive be that nationalist? A shining example is Anil Manibhai Naik, a business executive who worked 18-hour days for 53 years! Such tremendous and selfless action is not possible without an inspiration of the highest kind.

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And, what is that inspiration for Naik?

Minhaz Merchant delved deep into Naik’s family background to find the answer to this key question. Naik’s father was a staunch Gandhian for whom ideology was not a virtue-signalling word but a way of life. He quit a prestigious position in Mumbai voluntarily, to serve the village and thus, became a teacher in a rural school. His ideology was reflected in his uprightness which was not very conducive to the stability of his job in a rural political milieu. It is rather a common knowledge that ideologists are not exactly pragmatists.

And, this is exactly what inspired Naik. He is sharp — a combination of engineer-chartered accountant-economist-lawyer-manager; but more than that, his ideology is strong. He assesses people by their honesty. He has learnt his lessons from his ideologist father and kept his pragmatic side forever awake, without compromising his honesty.

Micro-management and macro-management are two sides of the management process. Naik is an ambidextrous person proficient in both. In his early career, he used his micro-management skills to decide where to stop his scooter during his midnight supervision of the factory floor so that workers would not be alarmed by the engine-noise of his scooter. In his late career, after taking over as CEO of L&T, he used his overall business policy skills to materialise an exponential growth. Market capitalisation rose from around Rs 2,000 crore in 1999 to over Rs 1,70,000 crore in 2017 for L&T and made it a 25 billion dollar company today. During this expansion phase, he implemented decentralisation in L&T too, an impossibility unless someone has the big picture in front of his eyes.

This expansion is not a matter of number but one of selfless vision and institution building. When confronted with difficult questions, their answer was also found with patience and perseverance. The entanglement of L&T with Dhirubhai Ambani and Kumar Mangalam Birla is a good example. The key element was the cement business of L&T and Naik let it go in the greater interest of the company.

Is his life a bed of roses? No surely not. On the contrary, personal tragedies are very much part of his life. But he finds solace amid those tragedies, not in bemoaning and grieving, but in his temple, the L&T. For Naik, the family is not a source of corruption but a support to his worship — working for L&T to nation-building.

What does India need at this critical juncture to regain her civilizational values? We do not need censures and “Why-this-would-not-work” sermons. We need heroes; we need a celebration of institution-building and selfless action. Merchant has precisely done that by celebrating Naik, the Nationalist. This book is the call of the present times.

Economist by training; humanist in yearning. Interested in Dharma, Culture & Civilisation.

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