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The little-known story of Rahul Gandhi's tractor

The little-known story of Rahul Gandhi's tractor

The tractor Gandhi drove is the Swaraj 855 FE, a 37.28-41.01 kW (50-55hp) category tractor, priced at Rs 7 lakh upwards

Rahul Gandhi drives a Swaraj 855 FE to parliament Rahul Gandhi drives a Swaraj 855 FE to parliament

Rahul Gandhi was the focus of everyone’s attention on Monday when he drove a red tractor to the parliament as a sign of protest against the three farm laws. Also in focus was the Swaraj 855 FE that he drove, not usually seen on the roads of Lutyens’ Delhi.

“If you coerce the farmers to sell their land, then tractors will run in the parliament -- we will sow the crop of truth. Take back the anti-farmer laws,” said Rahul Gandhi, as visuals of the Congress leader driving the red Swaraj tractor dominated news screens.

The tractor Gandhi drove is the Swaraj 855 FE, a 37.28-41.01 kW (50-55hp) category tractor, priced at Rs 7 lakh upwards. The Swaraj 855 FE has a 3-cylinder water-cooled engine and comes with a host of features like direction control valve, multi speed forward, reverse PTO, power steering, dual clutch and more.

PUNJAB TRACTORS LTD

Long before 855 FE was picked by Gandhi to be his choice of ride, tractor maker Swaraj was the country’s most profitable tractor company. Formerly known as PunjabTractors Ltd (PTL), the makers were the first indigenous tractor manufacturers in the country. While the conception was done in the 1960s, it was only in 1974 that the company started production. The organisation was conceptualised in Central Mechanical Engineering Research Institute (CMERI) in West Bengal’s Durgapur, keeping in line with Mahatma Gandhi’s principles of self-reliance.

Former Prime Minister Lal Bahadur Shashtri and CMERI Director Man Mohan Suri formed the idea of manufacturing 20hp tractors for small farmers after a visit to Moscow. A proposal was submitted to the Union Planning Commission and research for the project began in 1965. Technical inputs were taken from experts from across the country and prototypes were successfully field-tested in 1969, with all indigenous components.

Punjab State Industrial Development Corporation (PSIDC) stepped up to provide partial funding on the condition that the core design team go to the state for implementation. Commercial production of Swaraj 724 began in 1974.

MAHINDRA ENTERS THE SCENE

Once the most profitable tractor company, PTL gradually fell into difficult times. PTL’s Swaraj brand was renowned across North India, but around 2003, majority stakeholder Punjab government planned to divest.

Meanwhile, Mahindra and Mahindra’s pole position in the industry was threatened for the first time after Chennai-based Tractor and Farm Equipment purchased Eicher Motors's tractor division. TAFE closed in on Mahindra, who sought to increase its market share further. TAFE had also increased the North Indian market. 
So, Mahindra did the next best thing -- acquired PTL, raising its market share to 40 per cent. In March 2007, Mahindra acquired PTL for Rs 1,489 crore.

Mahindra brought Bishwambhar Mishra who was heading the company’s operations in China as managing director of PTL in July 2007. Mishra said in an earlier interview to BusinessToday.In that the first six months were spent liquidating stock, improving collections and securitisation of debt. He set up a leadership team, remodelled the sales division and extended dealerships.

In 2009, PTL was merged with M&M and came to be known as the company’s Swaraj Division. Around that year Mahindra had recovered its investment in Swaraj.

In 2012, Swaraj became the second company in the world to win the Deming Prize, followed by the TPM Excellence Award from Japan Institute of Plant Maintenance in 2013. In 2018, they achieved the milestone of 15 lakh tractors.

Currently, Mahindra sells tractors under two brands - Mahindra and Mahindra, and Swaraj Division. According to the latest data on Federation of Automobile Dealers Association, both these brands are the top selling tractor manufacturers. In June, Mahindra sold 11,634 units while Swaraj sold 8,440 units. As of June, Mahindra has a market share of 22.26 per cent, while Swaraj has 16.15 per cent share.

Also read: Rahul Gandhi drives tractor to Parliament, demands farm laws be repealed
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