In 1949, a very young India was trying to find its place in the world after attaining freedom at the stroke of midnight just a couple of years earlier. It was a India that was in a hurry to attain self-sufficiency, to claim its legitimate place in a new world order that was still emerging from the smouldering ashes of World War II and to become a moral force in a world that was getting increasingly polarised by the geo-political realities that emerged at the end of the war. To realise the dreams and aspirations of millions of free Indians, the wheels of the nation needed to be set in motion.
It was against this backdrop, the fledgeling Indian Army was on the hunt for motorcycles for its soldiers for patrolling the borders. After weighing the options and testing, the Royal Enfield was considered as the right choice. That marked the start of a trusted bond that only grew stronger with the passage of time.
By 1955, the Indian Army needed to replace its entire fleet of motorcycles that mainly consisted of the ageing and unreliable Triumphs and BSAs. Once again, the nation placed its faith in Royal Enfield. To meet the growing demand for Royal Enfield motorcycles from the Indian Army and other security forces, it became necessary that the bike is manufactured in India. Thus began the saga of the original “Make In India” story at Madras Motors in Chennai, which was then known as Madras.
In fact, one of the stipulated conditions for supplying the motorcycle to the armed forces was that it needed to be manufactured in India. This condition was laid down to promote industrial growth in a country that was trying to build its manufacturing capabilities that had been ravaged during the British rule. Subsequently, Madras Motors became the only manufacturing hub of the Royal Enfield in the world. Many decades later, the same idea of building manufacturing capacity in India was officially re-badged as Make In India that was represented by a mechanical lion.
The trusty steed served the needs of the Indian Army from the rugged heights of the Himalayas to the scorching plains of North-Western India, both in war and peace. Interestingly, at that time, other motorcycle manufacturers around the world were turning towards the much-simpler two-stroke engines, but the Royal Enfield relied on the high-torque 350 cc four-stroke engine that continued to use even half a century later, albeit with minor modifications to suit the needs of the time.
One of the main reasons for the Indian Army to rely on the Royal Enfield is because it’s reliable and easy to maintain. It’s the most preferred mode of transport for despatch riders even today. Every couple of years, the Indian Army places orders for 2,000-3,000 new motorcycles. The bikes that are used for official purposes are maintained by dedicated workshops of the army.
The army’s reliance on the Royal Enfield also helped the motorcycle to cultivate a rugged image that appealed to many civilian users as well. In many parts of rural India, the Royal Enfield was put to use as a beast of burden besides serving as a mode for commuting. As we enter the second decade of the 21st century, the thump of the Royal Enfield has only grown louder.