Meet the founder of the Bajaj group and Gandhi Ji’s “Merchant Prince,” Shri Jamnalal Bajaj

On his 133rd birth anniversary, let's look at the life of Jamnalal Bajaj, the industrialist, social reformer and freedom fighter who even got arrested during the Civil Disobedience Movement

In India, Bajaj is a household name. Today, the Bajaj group comprises 40 companies, and its flagship company, “Bajaj Auto,” is ranked as the world’s fourth largest two and three-wheeler manufacturer. It also provides pioneering services in the domains of finance, electricity, and healthcare. 

However, the founding stone of this USD 14.6 billion empire was laid by Shri Jamnalal Bajaj, who dedicated his entire life to fostering social reforms and pursuing nationalistic activities to protest colonial oppression. Such was his dedication to the Gandhian principles that Mahatma Gandhi himself referred to him as his “fifth son.” Today is his 133rd Birth Anniversary.

Birth and Early Life:

For Jamnalal, the dawn of his life was not as rosy. He was born to the family of a poor Marwari farmer in a village named Kashi Ka Bas, Sikar, in the erstwhile Jaipur state (modern Rajasthan) on November 4th, 1889. 

In 1894, Seth Bachharaj Bajaj, a wealthy Wardha businessman, spotted a young Jamnalal frolicking outside his home. Whether divine intervention or not, something about the young toddler made Seth Bajaj and his wife gravitate towards him. Upon hearing that the wealthy Seth wished to adopt Jamnalal as his grandson (and a potential heir to his grand business), he flagged a condition before granting his consent. 

Jamnalal stated that he would consent to adoption only if the wealthy Seth constructed a well in his village to alleviate the distress of the local farmers. The Seth gleefully accepted Jamnalal’s request and built the well (which can be found in Rajasthan’s Sikar, even today).

At the age of twelve, Jamnalal got wed to Janakidevi, and soon, under Bachharaj Ji’s tutelage, he mastered the flair of rigorous bookkeeping and buying and selling commodities. In 1926, soon after Seth Bachharaj’s death, Jamnalal laid the foundation of today’s Bajaj group of industries.  

Getting introduced to the Indian National Movement and Gandhian thoughts:

While starting as a budding entrepreneur, Jamnalal Ji had congenial relations with his British counterparts. So much so that during the First World War, Jamnalal had aided the British cause through monetary donations, and the British high command had conferred him with the titles of “Honorary Magistrate” and “Rai Bahadur” in return.

However, his enlightenment occurred soon after he read the works of nationalist leaders like Mahatma Gandhi and Bal Gangadhar Tilak. When Lokmanya Tilak was probing for potential investors to fund the Hindi edition of his magazine “Kesari,” Jamnalal Bajaj gave away Rs. 100 from his own pocket money! 

A young Jamnalal gravitated toward the message propagated by the Mahatma and Lokmanya, and his nationalistic spirits refused to wane. In quest of a spiritual purpose of his life, he met nationalistic intellectuals like Madan Mohan Malviya and Rabindranath Tagore. However, he settled under the tutelage of Mahatma Gandhi and embraced Gandhism as his way of life.

During the ‘non-cooperation movement’ in 1920, Jamnalal Bajaj actuated Gandhi Ji’s message of discarding British garments and embracing the Khadi. Such was his dedication to Gandhi Ji’s cause that he and his wife publicly torched their lavish silk and Western clothes, and they pledged to wear Khadi for the rest of their lives! Jamnalal also renounced the “Rai Bahadur” title in protest.

Later, when the Tilak Swarajya Fund was established in 1921, Jamnalal Bajaj donated Rs. 1 crore for the promotion and production of indigenous Khadi garments! He donated 20 acres of land and urged Mahatma Gandhi to set up a Satyagraha Ashram at Wardha. 

Jamnalal Bajaj volunteered as the Congress’ chief treasurer, and he held the designation from 1920 to the day he breathed his last. He was the leading donor to establish the All India Village Industries Association in 1935, and he travelled to remote places in India and urged people to embrace Khadi. 

During the Civil Disobedience Movement in 1930, Jamnalal Ji holistically supported Gandhi Ji’s Dandi March and even got himself arrested for two years in the Nasik Central Jail owing to his unabating financial support to the nationalist movements! 

It was Jamnalal Bajaj who put forward the name of a Young Subhash Babu (Netaji Subhash Bose) for the post of President of Congress’ Haripura Session in 1938. In 1939, he valorously led the Jaipur Satyagraha and took no break from striving for the nationalist cause.

Voicing for social reforms:

Jamnalal Bajaj’s progressive and liberal values are reflected through his conviction in waging a war against ‘untouchability’ and ‘communalism’ in colonial India! In 1928, he became the first leader to open the gates of his ancestral Laxminarayan Mandir in Wardha for the ‘untouchables.’ 

Jamnalal Bajaj vehemently opposed caste-based discrimination and strived industriously to uplift the Harijans. In his factories, Jamnalal never refrained from providing financial assistance to his workers and even secured them good treatment if they fell ill. He even kept track of their children’s education, arranged their wedding and bore every cost to guarantee them a secure future.

Jamnalal Ji advocated women’s empowerment and established institutions like the Mahila Ashram and the Mahila Siksha Sadan to facilitate 

female literacy and education. On February 11th, 1942, Jamnalal Bajaj’s life met an abrupt end after he suffered a brain stroke at his residence in Wardha.

After his untimely demise, Mahatma Gandhi wrote in his magazine Harijan, “There was no work of mine in which I did not receive his fullest cooperation in body, mind, and wealth. Neither he nor I had any attraction for what is called politics. He was drawn into it because I was in it. My real politics was constructive work, and so was his. I had hoped that after me, he would fully carry on those works of mine which would be regarded as of special importance.

Today, several institutions in India bear his name, including the prestigious “Jamnalal Bajaj Institute of Management Studies.” A locality, JB Nagar, in the sub-urban Andheri in Mumbai, has been named after him. Since 1978, every year on November 4th, the Jamnalal Bajaj Foundation has been giving away the Jamnalal Bajaj Award for notable work in societal improvement. 

Jamnalal Bajaj’s ephemeral life has gone a long way to establish the blueprint of the philosophy of “Gandhian capitalism.” It is a path of utilising one’s affluence and influence to do the greatest good for the greatest number, giving back to society. Today, we should pay our veneration to freedom fighter, entrepreneur, and one of the architects of modern India, Shri Jamnalal Bajaj Ji.     

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