A Scorpio or BMW for the PM? Let nationalism stay out of it

Nearly a fortnight after the National Democratic Alliance led by Narendra Modi stormed back to power after a decade spent warming the opposition benches, a rather unnecessary debate is raging on whether Modi should retain his armoured Scorpios or respect protocol (and SPG) by promptly jumping into a BMW.

The debate started with an inocuous email sent by Mahindra and Mahindra chairman Anand Mahindra beseeching Modi to trust the security provided by his armoured Scorpio and forsake the ‘videshi’ BMW. The letter activated the irrepressible PR machinery of the firm and soon it became a headline that captures imagination–the Indian Prime Minister being driven in a made in India vehicle.

There is some merit in it. Modi has for long used a cavalcade that mostly comprises of Scorpios while at the helm at Gujarat and then canvassing for the elections to the Lok Sabha. The vehicle stood the test of durability and security in the process. Also he himself has taken a liking to the vehicle that allows him a vantage position of the road while seated next to the driver.

Further, there are many precedents where heads of the state use vehicles made by homegrown companies as a mark of nationalism. US President Obama flits around in a stretched Cadillac (for the uninitiated, it is a brand owned by General Motors), Chinese premier Xi Jinping has a Hongqi HQE Limousine, Britain’s David Cameron has a Jaguar XJ (notwithstanding that it is owned by Tata Motors now) while Korea’s Park Genn Hye is driven around in a Hyundai Equus. Till 2003, even the Indian Prime Minister was always seen in an Ambassador.

It will benefit Mahindra to no end if Modi as the Prime Minister of one of world’s largest automobile markets is seen in a Scorpio at every event and function. It would invariably be the best appraisal of the vehicle’s quality. However, there are pitfalls to this and nationalism should not blind us when it comes to the safety of the head of a state.

In this scenario, there are a few things that are a given. Cost is not a parameter. The PM of India can afford any car that is deemed safe enough for him–from a Tata Nano to a Bugatti Veyron. So the price of an armoured Scorpio vis a vis a BMW is not a contention at all. What is of critical importance is which of the two are safer, faster and more comfortable.

With due respect to the Scorpio, I do not think it comes even close to a BMW 7 series on the last two counts. And it is not a better car by any stint of imagination. I am no judge on safety (we are not talking of normal safety features here but the reinforcements that make these vehicles immune to hand grenades, AK 47 rifle fires, chemical weapons, land mines and the likes) but considering the pedigree of the manufacturers, I would tip my hat in favour of BMW on this as well.

If the only reason for choosing a Scorpio over a BMW then, is that it is a car made by an Indian manufacturer, then the better car will not win. This decision should be left to the SPG and for them compromising their nationaility is a lesser crime than compromising their basic duty of providing the best security to the PM.

Or if you really have to go swadeshi, maybe one has to only look over their shoulders and vote for the Land Rover instead. Being a Tata car now, it meets all the criteria.

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