Back to Basics in Hyundai Market Mantra

Not only Hyundai but a number of other car manufacturers and service providers had participated in Pakistani propaganda on Kashmir, expressing ‘solidarity’ with the allegedly suppressed people in the Indian territory. When it blew into a nation-wide rage, the offending companies offered apologies and expressed ‘solidarity’ with India in turn.

The egregious behavior of Hyundai must have surprised many, considering that the South Korean car manufacturer sells many more cars (at least half a million) in India than in Pakistan (about two lakhs annually).   And it is a business worth $5 billion a year.   

Other companies that backed an objectionable Twitter message at the behest of a Pakistani agent of Hyundai included Kia (a Hyundai subsidiary), Suzuki, General Motors, KFC and Pizza Hut. All these companies have a large presence in India with Hyundai ranking as the second largest car manufacturer in India, accounting for 16 per cent market share in cars, and Suzuki being at the top.

If the Korea-based managers of Hyundai do not understand the depth to which India-Pakistan relations have fallen they can conflate it with their own country’s relations with their northern neighbour, Japan. They go back 100 years; their differences occasionally erupt in public. India treats that matter as a taboo and does nothing to let them or a third party rake up their differences.       

It was not the first instance of the South Koran car manufacturer backing up Pakistan’s mischievous Kashmir propaganda; only this time it got noticed widely and in time. The Indian government moved in and extracted apology from the offending Korean and Japanese companies.  Even the South Korean foreign minister felt obliged to speak to his Indian counterpart as a conciliatory move.

The matter would be treated as closed after the apologies and the telephonic conversation between two foreign ministers, but certain issues need to be pondered over. How or why do foreign companies or manufacturers in India willingly play into the hands of an unfriendly eternal ‘enemy’?

One would imagine that foreign companies operating in India or anywhere else for that matter would shun politics of any sort that lands them in hot soup. These companies are expected to be too engrossed in earning profits and expanding their markets in India to bother about politics.

But obviously, it is different in Pakistan where everyone, local or foreigner, must respond to all the weird propagandist calls relating to Kashmir by the rulers. If the Pakistan government observes a ‘Kashmir Day’ or whatever it is called everyone is expected to participate in the ritual of maligning India. This kind of gesture pleases the government of Pakistan and so what if it annoys a third country?

The companies forced to participate in Pakistan’s nefarious games were probably emboldened when in the previous years their support, witting or otherwise, to Pakistan’s malignant anti-India moves did not attract much attention in India.

But the government of India’s reaction this year seems to have altered the situation. Or has it? One thing that is sure is that Pakistan would not stop observing ‘Kashmir Day’ no matter what and chances are that a new set of foreign companies in Pakistan may be made to stand in ‘solidarity’ with Kashmiris, if Hyundai says no next year.

Roping in a new recruit for Kashmir propaganda may be possible because as the Hyundai affairs has shown, any unpleasantness that may arise will not last very long with a timely show of regret that prevents a worrisome escalation.

These companies may, of course, be worrying a hell of a lot more had there been a possibility of a strict Indian reaction—like asking the company to pack up its bags and leave India.  Hyundai, for instance, will certainly not be happy at the thought of having to quit India after capturing a big slice of the Indian car market. Suzuki will be simply too terrified at that thought, having long been the top car manufacturer in India.

To be honest, India would not like to force any company out of the country on account of its tangled relations with a neighbor. India needs foreign investments and it particularly welcomes the foreign companies that promise to bring high-tech manufacturing to India.

But even without going to the extremes it should be possible for India to ensure that manufacturers and other companies that come to India give an undertaking to stay out of political or other conflicts with another country.

Despite the bad health of Indian economy, the country still remains an attractive market to foreign investors. They may not feel offended if they are asked to respect Indian sentiments and resists from jumping into anything that smacks of maligning India.

For instance, India’s ‘huge’ market is said to be one of the important factors that helped India to have its way while on a multi-billion arms deals with Russia in recent months.  

Size matters, more so the Plus size. Business being business, the market size has a bearing on diplomacy and bilateral relations in today’s globalized market. It is back to basics in Hyundai Mantra.