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The Soft Sell Line

Madhu Aftab

By Prakash Tandon
Vikas Publishing House, New Delhi, 1980, pp. xiv 227, Rs. 50.00

VOLUME V NUMBER 6 May/June 1981

Autobiographical notes written by powerful men are usually interesting and thought provoking. One looked forward to this book by yet another not­able in the circle, Prakash Tandon. How­ever, one nibble at the book produces the feel of a well designed soap, launched into the market with the correct adver­tising line at just the right pitch. The message—free enterprises, free markets, no controls—is put across beautifully by Tandon, the star salesman behind the entry of ‘modern’ dalda into a market dominated by the traditional desi ghee. If the ordinary consumer buys toothpaste on misleading slogans of ‘cleaner, fresher breath and whiter teeth’, the target audience of the book—the adminis­trator/manager, academic and politician—is bound to lap up Tandon's line, as the truth itself. It has all the features of a good soft sell line: source credibility—(it is Tandon himself), carefully selected facts to build up the message and humour for taste— a must if the line has to be swallowed hook, line and sinker. The last of the Tandon trilogy, Return to Punjab (J961-75), deals with the periods when he was chairman of Hindustan Lever, Indian Institute of Management, Ahmedabad (IIMA), State Trading Corporation (STC) and Punjab National Bank (PNB). In the earlier two books, Punjab Century (1857-1947) and Beyond Punjab (1937-1960), childhood days, education and the early period in Unilever (India) are covered. Tandon exhibits three kinds of personalities in the book. In Hindustan Lever, he is the servant of the English­man who employs him, an Indian, to carry his plans through the capital's bureaucracy. He does the task efficiently. In fact, he takes their ideology of growth for growth's sake seriously and gets very upset when Hindustan Lever's soap plans meet an unsympathetic bureaucracy and hostile Indian business led by Naval Tata who hires a Dakota plane to travel throughout the country to mobilize the indigenous soap manufactures against the multinational threat. The ICS, nurtured to serve erstwhile colonial masters, rescues Tandon. The plans are sold successfully to L.K. Jha, one of the last of ICS. The very mention of Jha's approval is enough to change Finance Minister Morarji Desai's adverse opinion on Hindustan Lever's expansion pro­gramme. When the efficient servant of Unilever becomes Chairman of STC and director of Hindustan Steel, he is the typical brown sahib. The hierarchies, noise, boisterous unions, politicians, bureaucrats and ...

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