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India's leading automaker and the casteist attack and repression
Dharamveer Paul | 20 Jul 2012

No worker would want to work in an environment that's not positive. No company would want to unnecessary harass an employee - yet in the incident that set off one of India's worst industrial incidents - a caste aspersion played the trigger in igniting the turn of events that lead to one man losing his life and many getting badly injured.

THE JAPANESE Government has condemned the Maruti incident and blamed the 'barbaric' act of the Indian workers for the loss of life and property. In a report published in Mint, the Japanese embassy noted “The embassy of Japan strongly deplores the loss of life…caused by the sabotage perpetrated by a group of workers at the Manesar plant…and condemns the violence and barbarism.” When the country is looking forward to the findings of Special Investigative Team, the Japanese Embassy’s hurry to condemn the workers, more than the incident, raises eyebrows. It only brings to forth a mindset of establishing the Indian workers as culprits and having no intention whatsoever to get deep down to the root cause of the problem.

A deeper look into the Maruti-Suzuki Indo-Japanese relation will reveal that the relationship was always on troubled waters. When Suzuki came to India in the early 70s, India dreamt of a tremendous knowledge transfer. However, 40 years hence, MARUTI SUZUKI INDIA (MSI) still remains elusive of the Japanese technology that creates the backbone of the company. The gear boxes are still imported and the person who tried to indigenize the gear boxes making the Indian plant self sufficient Mr. S.S.L.N. Bhaskarudu, the ex-Managing Director of MARUTI SUZUKI INDIA (MSI), was stripped down of his position after a series of public spats involving the Suzuki bosses calling him ‘incompetent’. Why India continues to be an assembly and sales ground and not a hi-technology manufacturing hub with latest Japanese technology continues to remain a mystery.

However, apparently it seems that technology is not the only thing that the Japanese major forgot to import. A company that is always known for employee-friendly environment fails miserably in India. While Japanese workforce gets proper social security, Indian counterparts did not even get their basic demands raised in 2010 met. Very recently, Maruti has opened up the Maruti Academy and laid a lot of emphasis on educating the workforce with Japanese culture and processes. However, why the Indian workforce needs to pick up a Japanese working culture and not on Japanese technology raises questions.

A look into the reviews of employees of American Suzuki Motors on glassdoor.com reflects the same story of Japanese control over native manpower. “As long as a Japanese corporation treats American employees like they are in Japan, your best talent will always leave,” reads one of the reviews. “Listen to your American employees more often since they know the culture of this country, not just the Japanese way of doing things,” reads another.

The power play equation at MARUTI SUZUKI INDIA (MSI) top management also had not been supportive towards the growth of the company. The fact that Suzuki had to go through enough dirty waters to gain a majority stake in the company created a lot of pressure on them to prove their ability. It is a fact that the figures in the balance sheet improved drastically after Suzuki became a majority shareholder in the company in 2002. Within the board, it looked like a fitting reply to all the senior executives who worked tirelessly to prevent the Japanese counterpart from becoming a majority stake holder. However, in order to achieve the feat, they had cut down extensively on the employee benefits and refrained from implementing some basic facilities like conveyance that they have already promised the workers.

An India Today report speaks of forces active to remove Maruti-like setups from Gurgaon-Manesar belt. Considering the fact that Mr. Suzuki met Mr. Hooda on 7th September, 2011 and rushed to meet Mr. Modi just on the following day indicates that MARUTI SUZUKI INDIA (MSI) management had already started working on a backup base. What transpired between Mr. Suzuki and Mr. Hooda in the meeting of 7th September remains unknown but MARUTI SUZUKI INDIA (MSI) has already announced plans to set up a new plant in Gujarat at an investment of Rs 4,000 crore. There are strong believers of the fact that Maruti is looking for excuses to wrap up operations from Gurgaon to gradually shift the entire base to Gujarat.

In the backdrop of frequent violence, the decision comes without opposition from internal or external members. So does that mean the management at MARUTI SUZUKI INDIA (MSI) wanted the violence to happen? In fact the statement issued by Rammehar Singh, Union President at Manesar Plant, reads on the similar lines “The Maruti Suzuki Workers Union is anguished at the recent developments (at) Manesar where the management has resorted to anti-worker and anti-union activities in a pre-planned manner, leading to the closure of the factory yesterday,” Singh said in a statement issued a day after the incident. As Singh has denied of any wrongdoing, questions rise about the identity of the people who actually created the ruckus that day.

If  the version of Maruti Suzuki Workers Union (MSWU) is to be believed, then the company has well orchestrated the incident by calling in hundreds of bouncers on its payroll to attack the workers. “Who knows who created the problems? Nobody knows who killed the person who died. His leg was broken and that could have been a job of anybody,” says an employee with Maruti at the condition of unanimity. Everybody seems to be scared of being ‘targeted’, by whom – nobody clarifies. In a similar tone The New Trade Union Initiative (NTUI) issued a statement on Thursday saying the violence at Maruti Suzuki’s Manesar plant was “a well-planned instigation by the management to derail ongoing negotiations with the workers’ union over the charter of demands” and “discredit the sustained and united struggle of the workers at the Manesar plant”. Dr. Arun, who was in emergency ward of Gurgaon Civil hospital on the night of the incident, recounts having treated more than one person injured at Maruti who looked like ‘daily labours’. If the workers were burning buildings why were they injured – nobody seems to know the answer.

Also, Maruti management is not new to labour unrest. In March 2012, Maruti Suzuki India (MSI) Chairman R C Bhargava mentioned to the media that they have helped registering the labour union in Manesar premise and will recognize them. Despite that why within 4 months the management fell out with the labour union that enjoyed their support is a question. Maruti unrests have increased exceptionally in the last couple of years. The ‘all so sudden’ exceptional arrogant attitude of the management and the overtly employee unfriendly attitude for the last one year was surprising. The only raises the question – Has Maruti found a new home in Gujarat?

To add to the speculation reports floated up in every national media channel at this very time about how much the Gujrat chief minister Narendra Modi will like Maruti Suzuki to shift base in Gujarat and will pick up the discussion on his visit to Tokyo. It can be recalled that Gujrat earlier had been home for TATA Motors’ Nano production when the company faced strong rejection from local communities in West Bengal.

It was very unfortunate that a person had lost his life when the workers have reportedly locked down the management personnel and set fire in the building. The state government obviously was under pressure and arrested a number of workers. However, no arrests have been made from the management who are accused of being the primary instigators in causing the violence. The Indian media, barring a few, have filed reports are only on the basis of sources available from the management lobby. Since most of the labour union leaders have been absconding and  the circumstantial evidences work against the workers ‘the other side of the story’ remain elusive.

(This article has been published in an unedited form. Merinews.com doesn't endorse the views published in the article.)