Having established itself in Delhi, AIEI embarked on a journey of bringing about impactful changes. Although primarily an engineering association, AIEI was driven by a macro vision, and therefore, made macro-level, rather radical-for-its time suggestions to the Government. It suggested combining the Ministries of industry and commerce, a new Industries Act, and to modernise industry, allowing foreign equity participation.
Moreover, in 1986, under Ratan Tata’s leadership, a Long-Term Strategic Planning Committee was constituted to encourage the Government to look at economic development on a long-term basis and India as a potential global leader is some sectors, but the radical idea was greeted by scepticism by Government officials.
Over time, the scepticism diminished, and by 1987, several suggestions of the association had been embraced wholeheartedly, covering diverse sectors and areas of work. Notable among them were the establishment of a joint working group by the Railway Board and setting up of special cells and panels for industries such as power equipment and welding.
As AIEI and the Government worked more closely together and saw the positive impact of the close working relationship, there was an attitudinal shift within Government, blurring the lines between ‘us’ and ‘them’ and breaking the barriers between Government and industry. Working in partnership with trust defined the relationship between the Government and industry now.
Around the mid-eighties, AIEI, which had a grand vision for industry and for India, felt that its name did not reflect, or do justice to this broad-based vision. More importantly, it hampered progress and work. Even though its ambit of work had expanded to include more than the engineering industry, AIEI was not seen as a national, industry association such as FICCI or ASSOCHAM, but as a sectoral association. In fact, starting as early as 1978, AIEI had been seriously looking at ways in which it could become an apex association, and had started including work related to engineering-related industries, such as telecom, into its core work.
The critical, last nudge, for AIEI came from its new-found ally – the Government. Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi, himself a technology aficionado, supported the transition of AIEI into a national body.
And so, in 1986, AIEI became the Confederation of Engineering Industry (CEI), the apex body for the engineering industry.
But the question whether CEI should represent all industry was still unresolved, with opinion divided. Closer cooperation and a possible merger with ASSOCHAM were also hanging fire. A study was commissioned, and in 1990 submitted its report recommending that the CEI continue to represent, and serve, the engineering industry! Although the idea was put on the backburner for the time being, the structure of CEI underwent a change with the reconstitution of the Executive Council into the National Council, and the Sub-Committees and Standing Committees becoming National Committees.
In the 1980s, not only was the association undergoing a transformation, even India as a nation was changing. Some economic reforms had started, and the matrix had begun to change. CEI emerged as a leader – it recognised and appreciated the forces the reforms would unleash and began to prepare industry for the forthcoming changes. In fact, it was this ability to foresee and bring about a transformation that earned CEI its place in the sun as a premier, national association in the post-reform era.
CEI proactively worked towards the expected changes and identified six A+ priority areas consisting of competition, quality/productivity, human resource development, energy conservation, ancillary development and export. These areas formed the bedrock of the new economy.
It, however, continued to build on the work initiated by the AIEI. The scope of the engineering fair was expanded to give it an international flavour and scope, and the focus shifted to technology. It was therefore rechristened to become The International Engineering Technology Fair (IETF). In 1985, the concept of a ‘partner country’ was introduced, with Italy as the first partner country. Subsequently, the IETF has had several partner countries and growing international participation.
Another notable shift in the organisation in the mid-80s, in anticipation of changes ahead, was stepping up international engagement. A new International Affairs Committee was set up with Rahul Bajaj as the Chairman, and several country committees started to focus on different countries such as France, Hungary and Belgium. CEI soon established strong links with companies overseas. This helped enormously in exposing Indian industry to global styles of operations and quality standards, preparing them for a globalised economy. To help Indian industry further with quality enhancement or accreditation, CEI signed MoUs with organisations such as the International Register of Certified Accountants.
Domestically, CEI continued to work across sectors, but focussed its energies on rural development. A three-year programme to promote the engineering industry in rural areas was launched, and to promote the engineering industry in dairy development, CEI began working with the National Dairy Development Board. CEI also collaborated with the Indian Institute of Rural development to encourage skilling of rural artisans.
CEI had transformed to become a truly a national level association bringing in impactful changes across diverse industries and areas of work.