Tanishq buckles under, while Bajaj & Parle G stand firm

Decline of Tata Group: Prioritising profits over principles


October 15, 2020

/ By / New Delhi

Tanishq buckles under, while Bajaj & Parle G stand firm

The infamous advertisement by Tanishq which was withdrawn following boycott calls on social media

Recently two contrasting images of how corporate India responds to social issues facing the country emerged. While Bajaj Group and Parle Products decided to withdraw advertising from television channels spreading hatred and fake news, Tanishq, part of the once-venerated Tata Group, withdrew an advertisement promoting social harmony in face of threats of boycott issued by right wing elements.

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In December 1992, while Mumbai was in flames due to Hindu-Muslim riots following the demolition of Babri Masjid, Tata Group chairman Ratan Tata, along with several fellow industrialists, publicly asked the then chief minister of Maharashtra Sudhakar Naik to take strong action in order to stop the riots and also called for the Army to be deployed on the streets of Mumbai. Later, during the hearings of B N Srikrishna Commission on the riots, Ratan Tata appeared on numerous occasions to give testimony and did not hesitate to name and shame the right-wing offenders.

In February 2003, newly-elected chief minister of Gujarat Narendra Modi, on a visit to Delhi to promote his state as an investment destination, was not only booed but also called names with several leading industrialists like Rahul Bajaj and Jamshyd Godrej unrelenting in their criticism of Modi for his role in the riots, while others called for him to be thrown out of the room as he had ‘blood on his hands’ following the 2002 Gujarat riots.

Fast forward to 2020. Tanishq, an upscale brand of the same Tata Group, meekly withdrew an advertisement that promoted social and religious harmony in face of boycott calls by right-wing trolls.

The ad of Tanishq jewellery showed a pregnant Hindu girl being escorted by her (Muslim) mother-in-law to a baby shower. It was withdrawn by the company after trolls started the #BoycottTanishq campaign on Twitter alleging that the brand was promoting ‘love jihad’.

The company issued a statement saying, “The idea behind the Ekatvam campaign is to celebrate the coming together of people from different walks of life, local communities and families during these challenging times and celebrate the beauty of oneness. This film has stimulated divergent and severe reactions, contrary to its very objective,” says the statement shared on the brand’s social media accounts.

“We are deeply saddened with the inadvertent stirring of emotions and withdraw this film keeping in mind the hurt sentiments and well-being of our employees, partners and store staff,” it says further.

From 2003 to 2020, the face of Indian industry has changed dramatically and so has the spirit of most of the industrialists. For some industrial houses like the Bajaj Group, not much has changed over the years as they still have the courage to raise their voice against injustice and call a spade a spade.

The ongoing debate in India around the poor state of the Indian television news channels and the alleged TRP scam, revealed by Mumbai police on October 8, has led two of the oldest and most popular Indian companies, Parle Products and Bajaj Auto, to take a strong stand, saying “they will not advertise their products on toxic and aggressive Indian media channels.”

On October 8, industrialist and Bajaj Auto managing director Rajiv Bajaj said that his company has “blacklisted three channels” for advertisement, as Bajaj Auto does not want to endorse “toxicity”.

“A strong brand is a foundation on which you build a strong business. At the end of the day, the purpose of a strong business is to also contribute to society. Our brand has never associated with anything we feel is a source of toxicity in the society,” added Bajaj.

It was not the first time that trolls threatened to boycott a brand or company for its advertisement promoting social harmony. In 2019, HUL’s Surf Excel was similarly targeted for a Holi ad that promoted Hindu-Muslim harmony. The minute-long Holi ad “Rang Laaye Sang” (colours bring people together) shows two kids, a young Hindu girl trying to protect a young Muslim boy from getting coloured while going to mosque. The backlash was quite similar with trending hashtags on Twitter like, #BoycottSurfExcel, #BoycottHindustanUnilever, cancelled Surf Excel orders, threats of not purchasing HUL products, accusing the ad of promoting ‘love jihad’ and showing the Hindu festival in a negative light.

However, Hindustan Unilever Limited stood its ground firmly and refused to take down the ad.

Similarly, in August 2019 food delivery company, Zomato received a complaint from one of its customers about being assigned a Muslim delivery executive for his food order. The customer requested for change of the rider, which Zomato refused. However, it responded to the customer’s tweet saying, “Food doesn’t have a religion. It is a religion.” The response of the company won it many admirers.

Zomato founder Deepinder Goyal stood behind his company’s statement with a firm message. “We are proud of the idea of India – and the diversity of our esteemed customers and partners. We aren’t sorry to lose any business that comes in the way of our values,” he tweeted.

At a time when most institutions as well as businesses have become used to simply turning a blind eye to the rampant communalisation of Indian society and the openly divisive messages promoted in equal share on some of the Indian television news channels as well as in countless social media handles, it is refreshing to find that at least some business leaders prioritise principles over profits.



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