Bajaj might be at the center of attention over the last few weeks — MD Rajiv Bajaj has gone public with a stand to pull advertising from ‘toxic media channels’ — but the company is floundering at the stock markets.
Bajaj’s stock price is down 4 percent this year, while the stock price of arch—rival Hero Motocorp has zoomed 40 percent in the same period. The observation was made by former Bloomberg Quint journalist Darshan Mehta in a viral tweet. In his tweet, Mehta said that Bajaj’s management’s focus was “political gyaan, lockdown gyaan, attacking news channels and a negative Mindset,” while Hero Motocorp’s management was focused on “business growth, market share growth, premiumization, and a positive mindset”. The stock market analyst hinted that it was this focus which had catapulted Hero Moto’s stock 40 percent this year, while Bajaj’s stock was down 4 percent.
Over the last few years, Bajaj Auto has been in the news more for its political activism than for making two-wheelers. In December last year, Rahul Bajaj had asked a long-winded question to Amit Shah in a public forum, which, ironically, was about on how people weren’t allowed to speak up against the Modi government. His question had been calmly answered by Shah, yet the clipped version of his question had gone viral, giving the opposition ammunition to attack the government months before the crucial Lok Sabha polls.
But the company had gone from helping the opposition behind the scenes to making public overtures to the Congress. When the lockdown had been announced, Bajaj MD Rajiv Bajaj had appeared on Congress leader Rahul Gandhi’s YouTube show, criticized the lockdown, and spoken of an ‘atmosphere of fear’.
But Rajiv’s comments had come back to haunt him, as days after asking for people to be allowed back to work, Bajaj’s own factory was shut down because 79 of his employees had tested positive.
Most recently, Rajiv Bajaj waded into the TRP Scam controversy. As soon as the press conference naming Republic had been addressed by the Mumbai Police Commissioner, Rajiv Bajaj had gone ahead and said that his company would blacklist ads on three ‘toxic’ news channels. “To me it is a wise decision because my child, my brother’s children can’t inherit an India and a society where such hate festers. It was a simple choice and I made it,” Rajiv Bajaj had said in an interview to Gulf News.
The announcement might have been premature — new developments indicate that Republic wasn’t even mentioned in the FIR, and it was instead India Today which was named in the complaint. India Today had also been previously fined Rs. 5 lakh by BARC for attempting to manipulate ratings. Just today, Republic TV has sued Mumbai Police Commissioner for Rs. 200 crore for taking its name in the press conference when the FIR had no mention of Republic.
But Rajiv Bajaj has been consistently looking to earn his company eyeballs through his statements. It’s a bold strategy — it’s won Bajaj plaudits in far-left circles. But as Darshan Mehta’s tweet shows, experts now seem to believe that Bajaj’s social media activism is a cover for its failing stock market performance. And with India’s alert citizens seeing the pattern of Bajaj’s statements, and his clear alignment with the Congress party, Bajaj risks losing the patronage of those who don’t quite support the Congress and its policies.