He rose from washing cars and selling vegetables to become an MP. Here is Shivajirao Patil’s incredible story of self-belief
His life story almost sounds like an absurd daydream, not merely because he rose from washing cars and selling vegetables for a living to become a Member of Parliament; but because he did it by mastering information technology and turning entrepreneur at a time when the country was barely aware of integrated circuits and microprocessors. That is Shivajirao Adhalrao Patil’s incredible story of achievement and self-belief. His firm Dynalog started out by producing manuals for microprocessors and went on to build industrial computers and later to supply components and assemblies for India’s missile programme. Dynalog’s profitability gave him resources for social work at his hometown of Landewadi in Pune district and got him elected to the Lok Sabha. Ironically, it is as the people’s representative he feels bitter that his efforts at social development are frustrated by dirty politics and mindless rivalries. Patil narrated his amazing story with passion and objectivity
ML: We believe that you come from a very humble background. Can you tell us something about your childhood?
SP: I was born at a place called Landewadi in Ambegaon taluka of Pune district near a place called Mancher. This was in 1956. My family was into agriculture but since it was a very small landholding, my childhood was one of struggle. Going to school was also an issue. There was resistance from my family; they wanted me to earn money instead. When I was in the sixth standard, they wanted me to drop out and work on the farm.
ML: You went to a school at Landewadi?
SP: Yes. From the very beginning, I was very fond of reading and studies. After my first standard, I got a ‘double promotion’ to the third standard, because the teacher thought I was good enough for that level. Since I was very interested in studies, I did my schooling up to the seventh at Landewadi and then did my eighth and ninth standard at Mancher. I had to travel by bus if I could get a concession pass; but if I didn’t have the money to buy a pass, I would walk five kilometers.
My father wanted me to join him in Mumbai. He used to go to Mumbai at least four months in a year, during the mango season to sell Alphonso mangoes. Sometimes, he just went to Crawford Market, bought a few boxes and sold them on a retail basis at Ghatkopar. At other times, he sold vegetables, fruits or lemons. Since he insisted on my joining him in Mumbai, I agreed, on the condition that he would allow me to study in a night school. We used to stay in one of the slums at Ghatkopar’s Golibar Road.
ML: Did you have any brothers and sisters?
SP: Yes, I had one older brother in the military; he later joined the post office as a clerk. Another brother worked at the family farm and I was the third child. So, in Mumbai, I worked with my father during the day and went to night school at Ghatkopar East. After two-three years, my father decided that he wanted to go back to Landewadi. But I refused. I said I have been here for two years; let me make my career here. So I stayed back and tried to carry on the business of selling fruits and vegetables. But I didn’t like carrying boxes around and trying to sell them.
ML: So where did you stay after your father left?
SP: My father had sold our little hut when he left. So, initially, I stayed with a friend. But since he had a family, it really meant sleeping in the open and leaving in the morning as soon as I had bathed. I had nothing, just one set of clothes and a little bedroll. One always slept in the open and, during the monsoons, we found shelter in some under-construction building nearby and slept there. This was during 1971-73, when I was around 15.
ML: How did you earn money then?
SP: After my father left, I did a variety of odd jobs. I worked as an usher at cinema theatres, as casual labour at a textile mill at Rs seven for a 12-hour shift. I have worked at Crompton Greaves as gate-labour -- they used to pay Rs10 a day -- and, sometimes, as a railway porter. I also got into bad company, since there was nobody to guide me those days… I didn’t work until I ran out of money and then went back to a daily labour job. Then, my brother, who was in the post-office, found me a job at Zenith Computers at Walkeshwar. This was an assured job as a peon and gave me Rs125 per month. Once I settled down there, I started studying again. I joined Vivekanand night classes in Dadar. I also learnt typing and English conversation. I used to do three classes at a time - every evening - one hour of typing, then an hour of English conversation and then the night school. In that way, I completed my 11th standard and passed with a first class.
Zenith Computers used to sell the latest technology integrated circuits (IC) and chips for computers. I was around 18 and got very interested in what they were doing. I used to read all the manuals and literature. I worked for three years at Zenith and, since the office was very small - just eight-ten employees - I got to work in every department. As a peon, I worked with accounts, with marketing, purchase and the technical people. If someone was absent, I would help out wherever needed. I became an all-rounder.
ML: You learnt all this on the job?
SP: I had become quite the favourite there. For instance, if the marketing manager was absent, there wasn’t a problem because I knew his work. But if I was absent, they were stuck. Meanwhile, having finished my 11th standard, I joined a correspondence course at the Shivaji University for my graduation. It was a pre-degree arts course.
In the three years that I was with Zenith, I would do everything -- from bringing tea for the marketing manager and cleaning his table, to dictating correspondence when he was absent. Sometime then, I began to realise that there is no future in it for me. There were regular increments, which were undoubtedly good, but no promotion and, therefore, no future.
ML: Did you work directly with Raj Saraf (owner of Zenith Computers)?
SP: Yes, absolutely. It was a very small office those days (Zenith Computers is now a listed company with Rs300 crore turnover). He used to have a second-hand car those days, where if he braked hard, his foot got tangled in the wires! He was a very generous man and encouraged me a lot. He gave me money for my exam fees and tuition fees for college -- well beyond my salary. His moral support was very encouraging. But still, I had begun to feel that I had the potential to be much more than a peon.
At that time, a few new companies had begun to enter the business of trading in electronic components -- other than the shops at Lamington Road. Although the products were required by a wide spectrum of industries using electronic equipment, few people understood the business. Then, in 1977, I saw an advertisement. This was by a family called Gupta who had come from America to start an electronic trading business. I applied for the post of a clerk and was called for an interview. After a detailed interview -- where they asked me a lot of technical questions -- I was told that I had been appointed as a Sales Executive. I said: “But I have applied for the job of a clerk”. They looked at my application form again and, finally, said, “Since you have answered all the questions, why don’t you join as a Sales Executive”?
They asked me about my salary expectations and after some discussion, offered me Rs1200 per month. My last salary at Zenith was Rs250.
I went back to Mr Saraf and told him that I was leaving for better prospects. He said: “if salary is the only issue, I will pay that much”. But I said that I have already committed to join the other company and left. Within three months of taking up the new job, I realised that I had little support from the company. I was buying parts on my personal credit -- because everybody knew me from my Zenith days -- they didn’t know the new company. The sales were also based on my previous contacts -- All India Radio, Glaxo and Doordarshan -- just about everybody who needed electronic components.
I then realised that I don’t really need the company to be able to do the business; so in three months, I decided to strike out on my own. I went to the owner of the business and told him about my decision. He tried to persuade me and offered to increase my salary to Rs2000. I said, “No, Rs 1200 was not a small amount for me, but I want to try my luck and see if I can succeed”.
ML: Where were you living those days?
SP: I still lived in the slum with a friend but it changed after I started my own business. It was a very large slum near Dharavi. Since I was the only person buying an English newspaper in the slum, the paper vendor was curious about me and we got to know each other. One day, he told me that someone in a nearby building was looking for a paying-guest to share his apartment. I moved there in 1978, and started my business with Rs3500 in the bank. I used to give the address of my paying-guest apartment for my business.
ML: Wasn’t it a problem getting a phone, etc.?
SP: Yes, but it didn’t matter because I wasn’t expecting anyone to call me. My schedule those days was to get out of the house very early and go from one company to another on a door-to-door basis. Once I picked up enquiries for a specific part, I would go to Lamington Road in the evening to check the sources. The problem those days was availability of electronic components and parts. There were thousands of components in a machine but they were not easily available. What I did was to look for alternatives -- for instance, if a television has a particular transistor, say the SL 100 which was made in Russia and was not available -- I would look through the data books and manuals to find an alternative component made by another company or another country. In 99% of the cases, the trick worked and I was able to supply the part. Most shop-owners at Lamington Road did not know this strategy -- of finding alternatives, even though the technical journals were available with them. That is how I started serving the industry. I then worked on my Zenith contacts at Kota, Ahmedabad and Baroda.
I called these companies and they would send me a list of components that they were stuck for and which were not available in India. I then studied the journals during the night, figured out alternatives and took samples to them. This was a value addition that people really appreciated. Jyoti Ltd. was one company that really supported me; it used to be in technology at that time. Similarly, Instrumentation India Ltd., in Kota, was a government company that supported me a lot. Whenever I went to Kota, their engineers and research scientists used to sit with me to discuss which is the best component to be used while designing a product -- say a temperature controller or data acquisition system. For instance, which IC should they use in a specific amplifier or timer that would be commercially viable and also regularly available for the next 10 years. So they told me their requirements and I would suggest commercially viable options to them, which they appreciated.
ML: You were working alone all this time?
SP: Yes, mainly alone. In fact, there is another story behind that. Just before I decided to start out on my own, I had applied for several other jobs. In fact, it used to be my hobby to keep applying for various jobs -- that of a ticket-checker at the Railways or a peon at Canara Bank, etc. On 15th August 1978, the very day that I wanted to start my business -- fortunately or unfortunately -- I received three appointment letters. One as a peon at Canara Bank, the second as a clerk at Raj Khosla’s office and the third one from another company, whose name I don’t remember now. I was really confused and couldn’t decide what to do. Here I was, starting on my own and I was going to turn down three steady jobs. It was very confusing and a difficult choice. I thought about my options through the night and decided that I would start my own business. I could always do a job; but if I wanted to get into business, I would only get one opportunity. It was now or never. At that time, I had about Rs4,000 in hand and was earning over Rs1,000-1,200 every month and I was risking that. The first month, I really didn’t get good business. But, at the end of the month, I had earned Rs500 and thought it was a good start. From then onwards, there was no looking back. At the end of the year, I had earned nearly Rs60,000 and I thought I am in business. That was in 1978-79.
ML: For how long were you into trading and when did you get into manufacturing?
SP: From 1978 to 1982, I was purely into trading in components. I got an office in 1979 -- just a table space at Botawala Building at Flora Fountain in south Mumbai. My previous boss at Zenith, who had also started his own business, was there. I approached him and he said, “I will help you”. It was a good address those days. After being successful at trading, I was reasonably settled -- financially. I bought a second-hand car and booked a flat at Vile Parle for Rs two lakh. Then, I decided that I must get into manufacturing.
The year was 1982 when the world saw a revolution in microprocessor technology. The most popular microprocessor was 8085; then came 8086, 8088 and so on. So, 8085 was the commercially viable microprocessor in 1982. To explain what is the 8085 microprocessor: Intel started what is called a ‘microprocessor system design kit’ for engineers to understand and evaluate how it works, its internal architecture and capabilities. I felt that all engineering colleges would require this microprocessor training kit. Intel was selling the product at Rs25,000. I also imported some kits and sold them. Then I wondered: why can’t I manufacture the product here? I hired an engineer who copied the product for me in three months. I then added features on my own which were required by engineers but were not provided by Intel. So I made an Indian version. When I made this product, there were four or five others -- professors and PhDs who had produced similar products, but mine was more successful in India. In 1984, the government had a policy of encouraging microprocessor applications through the Department of Electronics, and the Dynalog product was selected. When I started manufacturing, I employed 8-10 people -- that was a turning point, not only for my company but also for Indian technology training business. Our major buyers today are educational institutions and R&D centres of companies. If anyone wants a microprocessor in any of their products and processes, they need to have the training kit to learn how to use it.
ML: When did you start Dynalog? And why the name Dynalog?
SP: It was then that I set up Dynalog -- it was a combination of Digital and Analog -- so Dynalog. We were the only ones to export that product to countries like Singapore, Malaysia and Hong Kong. Then, we started making industrial computers, add-on cards and other products. The trading part of our business is still going on. Our manufacturing base is in Pune and Ghatkopar.
ML: Why did you get into industrial computers? Is it a special line of activity?
SP: Let me tell you. When I started manufacturing microprocessors, we sensed that personal computers (PCs) were very popular. Until 1985, PCs were used only for data-entry applications and office automation. Then onwards, throughout the world, people started using PCs in real-world applications -- like controlling office and industrial processes. You take a standard PC, include some add-on cards, design software for it and make the PC a controller -- for textiles, engineering or other industrial processes.
At that time, I felt that add-on cards were the emerging opportunity and made various kinds of PC add-on cards after understanding the requirement of different industries. We made almost 100 different PC add-on cards. Between 1985-89, commercial PCs were used for industrial applications. Then industrial PCs began to be used for specialised applications and we started making rugged versions of PCs for industrial applications. We also decided to tie up with some foreign vendors who are established leaders for making industrial PCs.
Then we began to deal with the defence sector. The DRDO (Defence Research & Development Organisation) is a sound organisation which uses the latest technology -- industrial computers or military computers are used by defence services all over the world. DRDO also needed them. We entered this market by taking up a project for supplying computers and components for major DRDO projects such as Prithvi, Agni and Bramhos missiles. For the last 10 years, we have been involved in these projects.
ML: In what capacity have you been involved?
SP: We provide sub-assemblies and sub-systems to all these defence-related projects.
ML: You are now a Member of the Lok Sabha; when did you decide to enter politics?
SP: While doing business, I used to spend three days a week at Landewadi. I realised that there was need for a high school at my village - the nearest high school was five or six kilometres away. In 1987, there were 57 students in my zilla parishad of which 38 were girls. Normally, girls don’t go to other villages for further education. I thought it is a serious situation -- they would not be able to study further. The villagers also requested me to do something. So, on non-government grant basis, I started a school there. That took me to the village more often. And, once you start doing something, people begin to come to you. Around 1989, I met Dilip Walse Patil, who was then an aspiring politician and working as a personal assistant (PA) to Sharad Pawar. We were both from the same village. Once I started my school, his father, who was an ex-MLA (Member of the Legislative Assembly) befriended me. Since 1989, we were together almost until 2003.
After the school, I started a cooperative credit society and then a cooperative bank. I started listening to the villagers and helped resolve their problems. We then started a sugar factory where I was initially the chairman.
ML: But you are an MP from the Shiv Sena. How did that happen?
SP: Initially, I was with Sharad Pawar. I worked with him and Dilip Walse Patil for nearly 15 years. I supported him and the party, even financially, during their rough times. Somewhere, there was an understanding that they would give me a ticket for the Lok Sabha elections.
ML: Until then, you had not stood for any elections?
SP: No, never. But I had done the kind of work in my constituency that led to a silent projection that I would be the next MP. Mr Pawar specifically told me that I was doing a good job and that I would be considered for a ticket. In 1999, when Pawar launched the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP), I supported the NCP again, on the understanding that I will get a ticket during the next elections. Everything was okay until 2003. But all of a sudden, when it came to actually giving me a ticket, I found that Dilip Walse Patil was negative. It was a big shock to me - I had supported him fully for three elections. When I was told that I would not get the ticket, I was upset, but decided that I would quit politics and stay focused on my social work. I didn’t want to join another party either. I announced my resignation from the sugar factory and my plan to quit active politics. But I began to be harassed by the party - they would spy on me, keep a watch on who I met, etc. My school began to have problems. I tried to tell them to leave me alone; but it did not work. During that time, the Thackareys of Shiv Sena approached me. Since I was being harassed by the NCP, I decided to fight back and agreed to contest elections on a Sena ticket.
ML: What is the extent of your involvement in the business now?
SP: I have given it up completely. I have resigned from all my official posts -- in any case I cannot hold an ‘office of profit’. Meanwhile, my son completed his MBA from the US and joined the business.
ML: What next, are you enjoying being a politician?
SP: Not really, I am not happy with politics the way it is today. It is too dirty. For instance, as an opposition party MP, I am not even allowed to work for the people. At all levels, they work hard to block my progress or the development work I am attempting to do. I end up spending a lot of time just fighting with the local authorities or the police. There are also attempts to involve me in various police cases. It is just too dirty and, if it continues like this -- and there is no support from the party -- I will have to consider what to do. In the zilla parishad elections, I fought three seats and won two, but the party hasn’t even called me. If this continues, I will again consider getting out of politics and go back to doing social work.
ML: But isn’t there a lot of satisfaction in being able to take up issues at the national level in Parliament?
SP: Yes, absolutely. There is a lot of satisfaction in that. I am one of the members who has asked the maximum number of questions in the Lok Sabha - 802 at last count. You can see it on the Parliament website. I also did a lot of work on the Forest & Environment Committee and the Committee on Defence where I was a member. There is also a lot to learn from the speeches of politicians from various parts of the country.
It is the local politics that is dirty. For instance, bullock-cart racing is a big event in the villages. So just to alienate the farmers from me, the state banned bullock-cart racing, using the false cover of a High Court order banning animal fights. When we tried to protest, the police beat up the farmers very badly, arrested them and slapped cases of attempt to murder under Section 307 of the Indian Penal Code. All this talk about vision for development is just a sham.
But I don’t intend to give up so easily or allow myself to be defeated by them. Even today, I spend just a couple of days in Mumbai; otherwise I am constantly in my constituency working with my people. I pull out information and data from the Internet and follow up on developmental issues by approaching all the ministries concerned.
ML: Are you doing anything to develop entrepreneur-ship in terms of giving people support and helping build businesses?
SP: Entrepreneurship is not the issue; government policies are not conducive to business. I have organised 26 entrepreneurship development camps in the last two years with the help of the Maharashtra Economic Development Corporation (MEDC). In one of the projects, 12 unemployed youth, trained by National Horticulture Board, have set up green houses on a two and half acre plot. It is already profitable.
I talk to people in order to remove the fear of doing business.
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