The Telegraph
Sunday , September 23 , 2012
Since 1st March, 1999
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Ride of progress, from fear hub to susashan showcase
- Lalu son’s bike showroom tribute to changing Bihar

Aurangabad, Sept. 22: The elder of Lalu Prasad’s two sons has named his new business in Aurangabad town after his parents. But the three storey, milk-coloured showroom packed with gleaming motorcycles and scooters behind a glass front is actually an unwitting tribute to his father’s arch-rival, Nitish Kumar.

“Tej Pratap couldn’t have dreamt of opening the Hero two-wheeler showroom in Aurangabad during his parents’ rule,” said Sanjay Singh, husband of the woman mukhiya of Bhawanipur on the town’s outskirts.

That’s because the area, 180km south of Patna, was then a Maoist hub known for regular bloodbaths and was shunned by visitors. It is Nitish’s famed susashan (good governance) that brought in development and the rule of law that lifted the pall of fear.

The rebels had declared their presence in Aurangabad as far back as 1987 by butchering over 50 men, women and children at Dalelchak in Baghaura, barely 10km south of the town.

Since then, through the Lalu-Rabri rule, the place remained virtually a forbidden land as the Maoists waged war against landlords and security forces, intermittently targeting most of the neighbourhood’s 28 police stations.

Aurangabad had no hotels or restaurants. Few would dare enter the town, especially after sunset.

Once Nitish became chief minister seven years ago, things began changing in the town and nearby villages. The new government built roads, which created livelihood opportunities, and held panchayat polls after two decades with 50 per cent participation by women. The violence ebbed and people’s perceptions changed.

Now Aurangabad has four decent hotels, a Mahindra vehicle showroom, and several garment stores and restaurants apart from the motorbike shop, which stands tall beside the four-lane Grand Trunk Road.

LaRa, the bike showroom, derives its name from the first syllables of “Lalu” and “Rabri”. Tej Pratap, who is about 25 and is a management student in Patna, is its managing director. However, the shop isn’t doing well despite its prime location, the huge regional market for motorbikes and a lack of local competition.

Sales officials at LaRa told The Telegraph they had sold only 800 bikes in the four months since April 28 when the shop was inaugurated by Lalu Prasad and Rabri amid much fanfare.

“We have fixed a target of selling at least 1,200 bikes a month. But it’s hard to meet the target,” a sales manager who didn’t wish to be named said.

“Look, you may be a powerful politician’s son but you have to learn how to do business. You have to be polite always and make the customer feel he’s the boss,” he added,

Tej Pratap, according to showroom sources, usually turns up once a fortnight in a “picnic mood” and leaves quickly.

A young Aurangabad college student provided another reason. “We (buyers) want a bike in the colour and make of our choice. After all, motorbikes are fashion statements too,” he said, showing off the motorcycle he had bought from Patna.

“I had gone to LaRa first but I failed to find a bike in my favourite colour.”

Salesmen at LaRa admitted that the showroom lacked bikes of all colours and makes, and cited two reasons.

One, Tej Pratap has so far failed to maintain the necessary Rs 3 crore cash reserve with the manufacturer so he can get supplies on demand. Sources suggested this could be because of his lack of interest in finding out the business’s requirements, else the sum would not be too much for Lalu Prasad to arrange if he got to know about it.

Two, Tej Pratap behaves like a “political boss” and hardly listens to suggestions from the salesmen and managers.

The showroom’s running expenses come to Rs four lakh a month, managers at the shop said. Set up on almost an acre of land, it has 50 employees plus a basement service centre manned by authorised Hero mechanics and workers.

“Unless we sell at least 800 bikes a month, it will be hard to maintain the shop, not to speak of making profits,” an employee said.

Yet the market is promising. LaRa is the only Hero showroom on the highway from Aurangabad to Dobhi, 60km away on the Jharkhand border, and has the potential to attract buyers from Dehri-on-Sone, Gaya, Sasaram and Buxar, as well as towns beyond Barhi in Jharkhand along the same highway.

About 150 metres from LaRa stands the Mahindra showroom, owned by Aurangabad’s Janata Dal (United) MP Sushil Singh, as a study in contrast. “It’s doing fabulous business,” said a senior sales manager who has worked in both showrooms.

“He (Sushil) never mixes politics with business. LaRa will not do well until its owner changes his attitude to business.”