Being thirteen

Dear Rashtrapati Thirteen, George Bush Senior calls his son forty-three and he in turn calls his father forty-one. This is because they are number 41 and 43 as Presidents of the USA. So Pranabji, you are thirteen. Your accession was smooth and the ceremony was stunning. There are times when all of India comes together and this was one of those occasions. Yet as you hinted, there are severe problems facing the nation. In the euphoria of electing you, we must not ignore them.

Not all that far from Raisina Hills, there was a horrendous episode of murder and mayhem at the Maruti Suzuki factory in Manesar. You will recall how West Bengal turned violent when Ajoy Mukherjee led a coalition government with Jyoti Basu as Home Minister. The days of gherao and violence were inaugurated as part of a class war strategy. West Bengal got de-industrialised faster than what the colonial powers had been able to do in a century.

Manesar is different. We have had a positive industrial and investment policy since your first tenure as Finance Minister way back in the early 1980s. Maruti is a brilliant enterprise, highly capital intensive and very productive. Yet something went amiss on July 16 when Awanish Kumar Dev was attacked and his legs broken before he was set on fire.

The story is very complex and muddled as a result of some media warfare between the two sides. Maruti has had troubled industrial relations before as last year's strike showed. Rumours are that the management tried to replace the old trade union with a new one more amenable to them. I don't know whether such is the case but if that's so, then it is worrisome.

The response has been to treat the murder as a serious crime. This is entirely proper. But beyond that, there needs to be an inquiry as to why it all went so wrong. Workers don't normally attack management so violently without some provocation. Japanese multinationals have an exemplary record of good industrial relations in UK, better than local British managers do. So the question is, what was it that led to the situation boiling over so much that now 600 out of the 1,500 permanent workers face sacking? Does anyone think that will bring peace to industrial relations in Haryana or in India?

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