END OFA DREAM RUN
Violence and murder at the Maruti Suzuki’s Manesar plant are likely to hit the state’s industrialisation process. Future investors may look elsewhere.
The drive into Manesar is reminiscent of Gurgaon 10 years ago. An army of cranes, half- finished apartment buildings, semi- built five- star hotels and brand new operational malls dot the landscape. On the morning of July 18, Manesar’s dream of becoming Haryana’s newest industrial hub turned into a nightmare. Around 3,000 workers at Maruti Suzuki’s manufacturing unit turned into a riotous mob, assaulted managers with car parts and set buildings on fire. The brutal attack left Awanish Kumar, general manager ( human resources), dead— burnt alive as he lay unconscious with grievous injuries. Ninety ended up in hospital, most of them with broken limbs. It left other businesses in the area shaken, and future investors searching for an alternative destination.
The alleged provocation was an altercation between a supervisor and worker. According to the workers’ version of events, a supervisor abused a worker, while uttering a slur on his caste. The worker retaliated by slapping his supervisor. The management re- sponded by suspending the worker, but spared the supervisor. Enraged by a perception of injustice, workers rioted.
The incident of July 18 is not the first instance of labour trouble in Manesar. “The problem of labour ( unrest) has been there for a while now. Last year, there were strikes by Hero MotoCorp, Honda Motorcycle & Scooter, India and Rico workers,” says P. K. Jain, founding president of Gurgaon Chamber of Commerce. But the Maruti incident stands apart from the rest because of the brutal violence involved. This wasn’t a strike like the three that took place at the same factory in Manesar in 2011, or the one that took place in Hero Honda in 2011. This was labour unrest of an altogether greater magnitude, not witnessed in India since the 1970s. Strikes can be tolerated by business, but not arson and murder.
Haryana’s industrialisation strategy, carefully crafted by successive chief ministers— Bansi Lal and Bhajan Lal played critical roles in the 1970s and 1980s— is facing its biggest threat in four decades. Bansi Lal laid the foundation for infrastructure in the state by building roads and setting up power plants. With the help of DLF’s visionary Chairman K. P. Singh, both Bansi Lal
fresh investment,” says Debroy.
The Haryana government is on the defensive. Industries Minister Randeep Singh Surjewala, 45, floated a conspiracy theory. “It appears the Maruti Suzuki incident was a concerted plan to disrupt industrial peace,” Surjewala told reporters on July 21. Gurgaon Congress MP Rao Inderjit Singh added to the chorus, “I suspect many of the rioters were not locals.” Central intelligence agencies are suggesting that Maoist elements may be involved. Sources in the state police say they have no evidence to corroborate the theory.
There is another theory on who the outsiders could be. Locals in Manesar insist that the workers behind the violence came from other districts of Haryana, primarily Rohtak, which is Hooda’s pocketborough. Interestingly, Maruti Suzuki is in the process of setting up an R& D unit and two- wheeler assembly line in Rohtak.
Not everyone is buying the government’s conspiracy theories. Hisar MP Kuldeep Bishnoi, whose father Bhajan Lal was instrumental in bringing Maruti to Haryana, says that the government had enough warning signs of labour trouble at Maruti’s Manesar plant but did nothing about it. “There were three strikes last year. The trouble has been brewing since 2007,” he told INDIA TODAY. He believes that Hooda’s government mishandled the matter by not mediating between management and workers. Trade union leader and head of Haryana’s Centre of Indian Trade Unions ( CITU) unit, Satbir Singh, 55, agrees with Bishnoi, “The Hooda administration has consistently ignored issues pertaining to industrial workers.” He points out that there had not been a single meeting between the state government and trade unions until July 19, a day after the trouble at Manesar. “Even then, it was at our initiative.”
Perhaps Hooda, re- elected to a second term in office, was ignorant of the building social unrest. Aspirations among Haryana’s youth have risen, like elsewhere in India. At Maruti’s Manesar plant, the 2,100 contract workers are paid less than half the wage of the 900
“It appears that the Maruti Suzuki plant incident was a concerted plan to disrupt industrial peace.”
RANDEEP SINGH SURJEWALA,
Haryana Industries Minister “The government had enough warning signs of labour trouble at the Maruti plant, but did nothing.”
BHUPINDER SINGH HOODA,
Haryana Chief Minister
permanent workers. The difference in wages between the younger contract workers and the older permanent workers was a source of tension. Contract workers were forbidden from being part of the union. Wipro Chairman Azim Premji warned that the Manesar incident was part of a larger trend of social unrest in the country.
“Manesar was an extreme manifestation of long- simmering tensions between workers and the managements,” says Atul Sood, associate professor of economics at Jawaharlal Nehru University’s Centre for the Study of Regional Development. He believes the problem essentially arises from “managements trying to bypass institutionalised mechanisms of negotiations to settle disputes with labour”. Satbir warns that the current government campaign aimed at singling out the workers as responsible for the unrest “could prove devastating for Haryana’s industrial sector”.
Some experts still believe that the Haryana dream is alive. Mahesh Vyas, CEO of the Centre for Monitoring the Indian Economy, is optimistic about Haryana’s prospects. “I don’t think a few incidents of labour unrest will deter investment in Haryana,” he says. Vyas argues that other factors are equally, if not more, important in determining investor interest. Manesar’s proximity to Delhi is an advantage that won’t go away. However, at least two other advantages that Haryana once had— steady power supply and easy land acquisition— are in question.
The Haryana government is not denying the serious power shortage in the state. In the summer, by the state’s own estimates, there is a shortage of 200 lakh units per day— demand exceeds supply by almost 15 per cent. Speaking to the media on July 3, state Power Secretary Ajit Mohan Sharan admitted that “the power situation at present is quite grim”. P. K. Jain, who runs a manufacturing unit in Haryana, says that the shortage has hit industry badly. “For the last three days, there has been no power. We have had to run our factories on diesel,” he told INDIA TODAY on July 23.
Haryana’s once- lauded land acquisition policy, which offered better terms
of compensation than the Centre’s antiquated Land Acquisition Act of 1894, has also come undone. Even as Hooda’s government was dealing with the fallout of the Maruti violence, an agitation by the farmers of Rewari on July 23 against land acquisition turned violent, leaving at least 100 farmers and police personnel injured. Ironically, Congress General Secretary Rahul Gandhi’s election campaign in nearby Uttar Pradesh earlier this year, when he spoke against acquisition of agricultural land, may have emboldened farmers to rebel in a state ruled by his own party. Courts have also stepped in. In a huge setback to the government, on July 3, the Punjab and Haryana High Court pulled up the state for the acquisition of over 800 acres of agricultural land in Gurgaon. The bench of the court said that the state’s land acquisition policy had gone “berserk” and that the courts were “not helpless”.
Hooda needs to respond. If he fails, the Congress could well lose control of its last bastion in the Hindi heartland.