Why critics of the Tata small car are barking up the wrong tree

Those who criticise the Tata small car are barking up the wrong tree and some of their arguments are elitist and discriminatory.

"India is in serious danger", warned the hugely popular New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman last November in one of his columns. The danger, he said, is from the $2,500-Tata small car which he believes is a highly retrograde initiative from a country capable of incredible innovation.

Tata NanoWhy is Friedman so worried about a car that may never be seen on American roads? Because, he is very concerned about the well-being of us Indians! He is worried that we will make an even bigger mess of our road traffic and pollute our way to motoring bliss. He even asked Americans to urge Indians not to imitate the indulgent American way of life, but leapfrog and invent 'cheap-scale', sustainable solutions to big problems like public transport.

On the face of it, the column reads like yet another patronising sermon from a westerner baulking at the thought of third world masses enjoying cheap personal transport the way Americans do. But Friedman, a three times Pulitzer prize winner, is unlikely to harbour any prejudice against India and Indians.

After all, one of his biggest claims to fame is a true 'eureka moment' when it dawned on him that 'the world is flat' - while playing golf in Bangalore! The picture of Bangalore he paints in that book, with gleaming skyscrapers housing development centres for Microsoft, Sun and Oracle adorning his view from the golf course, would easily beat BJP's old 'India Shining' campaign.

Tom Friedman is not alone in deriding the Tata small car.

Ever since Ratan Tata announced his intention to build the cheapest car ever, there has been no let up from a variety of Tata baiters. Some competitors ridiculed the idea and questioned the company's ability to launch a car at such a low price. Green activists and 'concerned' souls, much before it caught Friedman's attention, have been warning us of the terrible fate that awaits us if the small car becomes a reality. Their objections range from vehicle safety to pollution and some of them sound plain elitist in their arguments.