The story behind the cult status of Royal Enfield

Amrit Raj’s book delves into the history of British Royal Enfield, how it made its way to India and then ended up in the hands of the Lal family

It doesn’t take more than a couple of pages of his book, Indian Icon: A Cult called Royal Enfield, to recognise that Amrit Raj is not a hardcore motorcycle enthusiast. Sure enough, he confesses to being a casual motorcyclist who heads out for a ride now and then, but Amrit admits that he prefers his car. Typically, motorcyclists tend to respect only fellow motorcyclists’ opinions on subjects like this, something made clear in the section of the book that discusses the company’s leadership from 2014-’18. But this book is not about motorcycles, and it is nice to read the story of the Royal Enfield brand by someone who isn’t enamoured by the motorcycle.

“I was fascinated by the story of the brand,” Amrit Raj says, when asked what led him to write this book, his first. “The idea came to me when I was working with a newspaper and during our bureau meetings, we would often discuss all kinds of Indian brands that had the potential to become global. We made a list of four or five brands and Royal Enfield was the one that came out on top in my mind.

“Typically for a brand to develop a fan or cult following, it needs to give back something to the consumer, right? If you look at Hero or Maruti, you get good mileage and decent cost of ownership. The Land Rovers give luxury, durability and reliability. And then I looked at Royal Enfield, and wondered, “If you buy a Royal Enfield, what do you get?” It does not give you great mileage, it is a heavy bike to manoeuvre, service is not great… So, what does it have that people are so mad about?”

Amrit adds, “I came to the conclusion that it was the whole swag and charisma — something that was possibly more enhanced with the older generation of Bullets. All these things led me into exploring the brand, talking to people, looking into its history and how it survived over a period of time. I could recall at least four occasions when it was about to shut down. From being on the brink of closing down and then making a comeback — it was quite a story. That’s the reason why I thought I should pen it down.”

The book delves into the history of British Royal Enfield, how it made its way to India and how it ended up in the hands of the Lal family that owned Eicher, eventually coming under the control of young and dynamic Siddhartha Lal. It is common knowledge that Royal Enfield’s survival, and eventual raging success is largely credited to Siddhartha. The book explores his personal journey in educating and equipping himself for the job as well as the big, and often difficult, decisions he took in the early years of struggle. Of course, there were numerous other characters who played significant roles, but Lal is always at the centre.

Amrit says Sidhhartha met him for one interview for this book in 2015, but since then, neither the Lal family nor Royal Enfield participated. The majority of this book is put together after speaking with multiple people connected with the brand, including a couple of present-day Royal Enfield employees who were surprisingly candid.

This book tells the tale of what businesses used to be like in India in the pre-liberalisation days and takes you through the unique journey of a brand that defeated the odds to grow into an almost unimaginable phenomenon.

(Indian Icon: A Cult Called Royal Enfield is available as a hardcover or e-book on Amazon India)

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