Rahul Bajaj 1938-2022: an intimate tribute to a courageous, industrious and larger than life presence

On Saturday, India lost a corporate colossus, and I lost a longtime guru, friend and older brother. A supremely independent man with a powerful, larger-than-life physical presence, Rahul Bajaj had been suffering from rapidly declining health for the past few months. His close friends, including myself, prayed that a man like him would not be subjected to the indignities of an artificial life support system. Rahul wasn’t, as he indicated he didn’t want a truck with it. And so he passed away – sadly not at home, but with as much dignity as possible at Ruby Hospital in Pune.

I have known Rahul since 1978, worked closely with him since 1997, served on the board of some of the companies he chaired, often argued until the cows came in at home i confidentially shared details of many things under the sun and in all that time i have learned so many different things from him over the years. Here are some memories.

Well read, well read

In 1996, Tarun Das, CEO of the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII), asked me to join a committee led by Rahul to draft a code on corporate governance. I prepared one to par with the best international standards and presented it for discussion with a nagging concern that industry association would carry little weight with most of them. That’s when Rahul came into play.

For three consecutive days at his office in Akurdi, Pune, from early afternoon until late evening, he meticulously went through the document inserting several dozen corrections scribbled in his small handwriting, scanning the pages at go fast. Some we agreed on instantly, some we argued over. But in the end, the draft was far superior to what I had originally written – in form, structure and content. Thanks Raul.

At the end, when I asked him, “So how are you going to sell these ‘revolutionary’ ideas to your members?” he replied, ‘Leave that to me, young man.’ And he did so with such presence and panache that the document became India’s first comprehensive corporate governance code, almost all of which was later incorporated by the Securities and Exchange Board of India (Sebi ).

Three years later, while I was at ICN, Rahul, by a curious quirk of fate, was elected president for the second time. This has never happened before, nor since. During this year, I had to interact very closely with him and I often accompanied CII delegations with him. That’s when I got to know him better and he started lecturing me on a lot of things under the sun. Here are some lesser known vignettes of Rahul.

First, the speed and thoroughness with which he read and edited drafts was unmatched. After interacting with Rahul over hundreds of such drafts covering various topics, I concluded that he must have been an excellent copy editor in his previous life. Without glasses or reading glasses, he is the only man I know who quickly reads any typed page in a single 10-point space and infallibly marks all typos as well as grammatical and syntactical errors in the blink of an eye. ‘eye.

Second, anyone who knew Rahul can attest to his insatiable curiosity, his love of facts and debate. There’s nothing he liked more than an argument. And if the debate turned against him, Rahul would be the first to acknowledge it gracefully.

No diet for the body, copy

Third, a joke he and I often shared was that Rahul must have failed the exact question in class 7. Do you remember the one where you had to rewrite 200 words into 100 or 50? With great enthusiasm, Rahul could dictate anything that, with all the qualifiers that came to mind, could turn 200 words into 400. Without even trying.

He never carried an iota of wickedness. To anyone. In the past 30 years, I had never heard him speak meanly about anyone – although he was observant enough to be extremely mean in private society. Rahul also had friends throughout society, not just businessmen. On the one hand, he was the hero of the Indian delegation to Davos. On the other hand, he made the driver, who was always at his service in Davos to accompany him, spend time as a guest in Pune.

I will always remember Rahul’s wide smile, open laugh, embarrassing inability to follow a proper diet, and talent for making fun of himself, with genuine appreciation. He was reluctant to praise his family. But, in the privacy of his living room in Akurdi, he was incredibly proud of his two boys – for Rajiv with Bajaj Auto and Sanjiv with Bajaj Finance and Insurance Companies.

And what a dancer he was! I haven’t seen anyone do a close dance as well as Rahul. With a style and swing that was, and is, devoid of most Indians of his time, and after.

Tarun Das and I spoke when news of Rahul’s death reached us. He was very close to Rahul and started by saying, “The lion is gone. This is the most fitting tribute to Rahul Bajaj. There will never be another like him. In all directions.

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