Farrokh Cooper makes no bones about the fact that he is a diehard advocate of Atmanirbhar Bharat. To the Chairman and Managing Director of the Satara-based Cooper Corporation, this is an absolute imperative for India. From his point of view, MNCs setting up shop in India should really not be complaining too much since the red carpet is literally rolled out for them.
As Cooper puts it, as part of its effort to encourage investments, the Centre has reduced the taxation rate for these companies which is “lower than what they pay” back home. The objective, doubtless to add, is to generate employment, support auto ancillaries and develop the overall ecosystem.
“If you come into India enjoying these benefits and then start importing the same components, which can be made here, from China to compete unfairly with Indian manufacturers, I think that is wrong,” reiterates Cooper. This is particularly galling at a time when there is “massive unemployment” in the nation and the overall “damage is still to be recovered” following the pandemic.
“These international companies should declare what is not possible to make in India but they don't want to do that. They want to look after their balance sheets, buy cheap stuff and then sell it in the country,” says an obviously irked Cooper.
In his view, this is completely unacceptable especially when they get everything on a platter, right from lower taxes to infrastructure which they haven't paid for.
Championing Make In India
The 76-year-old CMD also does not buy the argument that imports happen because some of the products /technologies are simply not available in India. “When you go into high technologies, what is it that you cannot produce here? You can
make a crankshaft, cast iron, steel and everything possible. Electronics is the only thing where maybe we could have a challenge and even that that is a maybe,” emphasises Cooper.
Cooper Corporation's manufacturing processes are continuously updated to comply with the latest global standards and customer specifications.
He then cites the example of his own company whose main income is from the US. “Our main competitors are two Chinese liner manufacturers and our business growth has come from America switching over from China to buy from Cooper Corp,” he elaborates.
From his point of view, it is a “myth to say China is cheap” since what companies essentially do is import components here, assemble them at half the price and compete. “They don't bother about quality or aftersales. Which specific area is India lacking in for scale. . . let them pinpoint,” he asks.
Clearly warming up to the topic, Cooper goes on to say that while “I can’t give you names”, there are many MNC engine manufacturers coming to India, making (engines) here but importing from China. “Let them name the component that they cannot get in India. . . they just can’t. Everything is available here at the same international price,” he says.
According to him, this attitude only reflects “a question of laziness”. They may have to give some tooling costs, find a vendor and so on. “They don't want to do that,” insists Cooper. He then brings up the point which he has already dwelt upon in this conversation but emphasises it once again for good measure.
“Today if you open a factory anywhere, do you know the subsidies the government gives you? They are enormous, be it in any part of the country, and they then go head over heels to support you. If there is a deficit in capacity somewhere, is it so difficult to work it out?” wonders the CMD.
He makes it quite clear that the Atmanirbharta mission is a move in the right direction to support industries and tackle the problem of massive unemployment. And for those who do not go the extra mile, Cooper says the solution lies in “trying to exert” and do something more concrete.
“There is a MNC car company abroad which buys liners from me. They have a factory in China and we supply liners to Europe as well as China from here in Satara,” he says. The underlying message is that Cooper Corporation is not losing anything in the process since all commodities — be it steel or aluminium — are marked at international prices for all countries.
“The problem in India is that professionals have become complacent and lazy without exerting themselves. They are just too smug,” he says, while adding for good measure that “we are too democratic and that is our problem”.
Cooper Corporation, which began manufacture of its first Indian-made all-iron plough in 1921 at Satara, Maharashtra, today makes gensets, engines and engine components for Indian and global OEMs.
To back this statement, Cooper cites the example of an international carmaker which could not sell in India “since they did not understand the market”. On the other hand, this company “used Indian infrastructure” to export. “Is that the reason we gave them permission?” he demands to know.
All these MNCs, continues Cooper, should be asked what is not available here: “Can’t someone give you a cylinder head or crankshaft?” In his opinion, the Centre should hold talks with them, sit across the table and check out what is lacking. “Banks have so much liquidity and are willing to lend. It is only lethargy,” he says.
According to Cooper, the other likely reason is that these MNCs may have signed up with Chinese suppliers is to cater to their requirements across the world. Hence, if they were to rock the boat and opt for Indian suppliers, the reverberations could be felt for their other global plants.
“If Supplier A has signed up for parts in India, Europe and the US but given the ditch here in India, the company concerned could lose its contracts everywhere (with the Chinese),” he explains. This is the “spider’s web” in which they are trapped and it is, therefore, important for the Centre to ask why these parts are being imported and not bought in India instead.
“There is no reason to buy any parts from China. . . these MNCs have signed up for supplies worldwide. This becomes a drawback to Indian suppliers,” says Cooper. He also wonders why there is this constant fuss about low demand in India. “How come in a Corona-virus lockdown, MG and Kia get market share? They haven't grumbled. Kia, an unknown brand, is already making waves,” he says.
By the end of the day, adds Cooper, nobody should lose sight of the fact that huge resources are going into the border where the present standoff is happening and “it must be costing a bomb”. He believes everyone should ask themselves if this is an important issue or not and the time has come for all Indians to do some serious introspection.
“We have to decide if we want to be wishy-washy. We are not going for protectionism. On the contrary, we are bleeding on the border, spending huge resources and there is no solution in sight,” says Cooper. Hence, this boils down to a specific issue and is not about “suggesting barriers on global trade”.
The industry veteran is clearly upset with the way things are panning out right now and believes it is important to ask if “we going to take this lying down” especially during these difficult times. “Industry should rally around and we should show that we are unhappy,” he says.
On a happier note, business has been brisk for Cooper Corporation even though two months were lost because of the lockdown. Since the company employs only locals from Satara, it did not face the problem of the exodus of migrant workers. Medicos were also summoned from nearby Pune to handle cases of infection. “We are expanding and business is growing by 20 percent,” signs off Cooper.
This feature was first published in Autocar Professional's February 15, 2021 issue.