Jamnalal Bajaj (4 November 1889 – 11 February 1942) was an Indian industrialist, a philanthropist, and Indian independence fighter.He was also a close associate and follower of Mahatma Gandhi. Gandhi is known to have adopted him as his son. He founded the Bajaj Group of companies in 1926.The group now has 24 companies, including 6 listed companies. Besides Bajaj Auto Ltd, the other major companies in the group include Mukand Ltd, Bajaj Electricals Ltd and Bajaj Hindusthan Ltd. One of his grandsons, Rahul Bajaj, runs the family flagship company, Bajaj Auto. Several institutions in India bears his name, including the Jamnalal Bajaj Institute of Management Studies. A locality, JB Nagar,in the sub-urban Andheri in Mumbai has been named after him. Jamnalal Bajaj Award was established in 1978 by the Jamnalal Bajaj Foundation are given away each year on his birth anniversary.
Jamnalal Bajaj was born into a poor Marwari family, the third son of Kaniram and Birdibai, in a village named Kashi Ka Bas, near Sikar, Rajasthan. He was later adopted as a grandson by Seth Bachhraj and his wife Sadibai Bachhraj, a rich Rajasthani merchant couple of Wardha. Seth Bachhraj was a distant relative on his father’s side, and was a well-known and respected trader in the British Raj.
Upon coming of age, under the guidance of Seth Bachhraj, Jamnalal got involved in the family business of his grandfather. During this period he acquired the know-how of being a tradesman—rigorous book keeping and buying and selling commodities—excelling in his work by the time Seth Bachhraj died. In 1926 he founded what would become the Bajaj group of industries.
During the First World War, the British government appeased and honoured native tradesmen, soliciting funds. They appointed Jamnalal an honorary magistrate. When he provided money for the war fund, they conferred on him the title of Rai Bahadur, a title he later surrendered during the non-co-operation movement of 1921.
Upon Mahatma Gandhi’s return from South Africa, Jamnalal took in interest in Gandhi’s way of life, his principles, such as Ahinsa (non-violence), and his dedication to the poor. He could understand Gandhi’s vision that home-made goods were the answer to India’s poverty. He considered that some British companies were importing cheap, raw cotton from India and sending back finished cloth. He was humbled by the simple life that Gandhi was leading at the Sabarmati Ashram. He was impressed by the Ashram’s routine of prayer and physical work. Activities included cleaning, cooking, washing and looking after the domesticated animals. He brought his wife Jankidevi and his children to live in the Ashram. However, this close relationship and his deep involvement in the independence movement did not leave Jamnalal Bajaj with much time to spend on his newly launched business venture
In 1920, Jamanalal was elected chairman of the reception committee for the Nagpur session of the Indian National Congress. He gave up the title of Rai Bahadur conferred on him by the British government, and joined the non-co-operation movement in 1921. Later, in 1923, he participated in the flag satyagraha, defying a ban on flying the national flag in Nagpur, and was detained by British forces. This earned him national admiration.
He wanted Gandhi to move to Wardha and make it the center of his activities. After the Dandi March in April 1930, Gandhi moved to Sevagram, a small village near Wardha, since he wanted to live close to the rural populace. Gandhi vowed not to return to Sabarmati Ashram until freedom was achieved.
Jamanalal was named president of Gandhi Seva Sangha, a group of workers who dedicated their time to constructive work. He was later elected a member of the Congress Working Committee and as the treasurer of Congress in 1933.
Jamanalal Bajaj was interested in initiatives such as the removal of untouchability, promotion of Hindi, and Khadi and village Industries. He had toured across the country promoting Khadi. In 1925, he was chosen as the treasurer of the All India Spinners Association. He was also the president of the All India Hindi Sahitya Sammelan (literary convention) that promoted Hindi as the single language to unite all Indians. He was instrumental in publishing Hindi magazines and books. He initiated the Gandhi Hindi Pustak Bhandar (bookshop) in Bombay and started the Sasta Sahitya Mandal (publishing house).
He founded the Dakshin Bharat Hindi Prachar Sabha (university) along with C. Rajagopalachari in hopes of spreading the learning of Hindi across the country.
With the intent of eradicating untouchability, he fought the non-admission of Harijans into Hindu temples in his home town of Wardha. As orthodox Hindu priests and Brahmins objected, he opened his own family temple, the Laxmi Narayan Mandir, in Wardha, for the Harijans in 1928. He began a campaign by eating a meal with Harijans and opening public wells to them. He opened several wells in his fields and gardens.
Due to his devotion, he was elected the chief of the Jaipur Rajya Praja Mandal in 1938. While chief, he negotiated a truce between the maharajas of Sikar and Jaipur.
In honour of his social initiatives a well known national and international award called Jamnalal Bajaj Award has been instituted by the Bajaj Foundation.Past awardees include Nelson Mandela and Desmund Tutu among others.
Bajaj differed with Gandhi when he disagreed with Congress contesting in the 1933 elections to the legislature. When the Congress Working Committee informally decided to make him the President of the Haripura Session of the Congress which Gandhi personally approved, he chose to pass the honour to Subhas Chandra Bose.
Jamanalal dedicated much of his wealth to the poor, in line with the trusteeship concept proposed by Gandhi.