Millennium Post

No longer a way of life

An eminent youth leader of his times, Sanjay Gandhi unfortunately could not see his dream coming true during his life time. His desire to empower a segment of people to become proud owners of a small and sleek car was fulfilled after his untimely demise. The demise was described by a leader of high stature, Atal Bihari Vajapyee, as a sad accident which brought pitch darkness during the shining daytime. The then opposition, during the 1980 election, vigorously made the small car project of Sanjay their result-oriented political plank. They coined a slogan, Beta car banyega, Maa bekar banayegi. Fiery leaders, like the late Mani Ram Bagri, and others with a socialist background, were vocal in attacking Indira Gandhi and Sanjay on this issue. The results awarded the Congress a thumping majority. Its return to power was the harshest slap on the face of the opposition. At this point of time the winners replied with a slogan,
Beta car banayega, Maa sarkar banyegi.

The then chief minister of Haryana, an architect of the fast moving new state, Bansi Lal offered a plot of land for the Maruti factory in Gurgaon, close to Delhi and Palam airport. The opposition in Haryana, while describing it as a dole to the Gandhi family, slammed Bansi Lal and called him a puppet in the hands of Sanjay. The chief minister categorically stated that the proposed factory would prove to be a goldmine for the state. Apart from generating employment, the factory would result in a bumper exchequer by way of accumulation of the huge revenue resulting from all-round development, he added. The setting up of Maruti Suzuki in Gurgaon proved to be a catalyst in turning this sleepy city into the millennium city. The factory also paved the way of entry of multinational companies, industrial houses and trade magnates, all of whom reaped benefits from the fertile economic environment.

I still remember 14 December 1983 when the then prime minister Indira Gandhi launched the Maruti 800 and spoke highly of Sanjay’s wonderful ambitions and his commitment to make available a small car to middle class families across the country. The first red Maruti car was handed over to one Harpal Singh. I was part of that enchanting, exciting and elegant event. Since then, Maruti Suzuki used to sell like hot cakes and the customers used to wait for their turn to mature. The impatient buyers purchased it on a premium and finally it acquired a pan-India presence. The company, which came out initially with the Maruti 800 standard model, afterwards released a large number of variants based on the demand, requirement and pocket size of buyers. It became the largest car producing company in the country. The company also captured markets abroad due to the reliability and longevity of its products.

The years 2011 and 2012 brought a scar on the name and fame of the company. Maruti Suzuki has to face unprecedented labor unrest and a prolonged shut down. The recent riot-like situation in its Manesar plant has no parallel in the history of industrial unrest in the country. The management has announced a lockout, stating a danger to life in the factory, as an officer of the level of a general manager has been attacked brutally. The vandalism by the workers has not only caused grievous injuries to the members of the management but has also maligned the fair image of Maruti Suzuki, boasting as it does of its Japanese work culture and unmatched technology. It is on record that the company lost Rs 2.5 billion in 2011 and it is losing an amount of Rs 70 crore per day after the rampage last week. The loss is not limited to the management, it is also affecting the state exchequer, the workers and the more than 2,900 ancillary companies and their workmen. The company is claiming that it will not like to shift the plant from Manesar to any other state or city. Who knows the future. It depends upon industrial relations. The kind of hooliganism witnessed last week leaves no ground to think that there will be no recurrence. Things may take a turn similar to that which developed in Singur in West Bengal. It is a coincidence that the Gujarat chief minister has left for a five-day official trip to Japan. He may use his persuasive skills to attract Suzuki to venture to his state. Maruti has stated that it cannot risk the safety of its employees. This underlines the fact that the company would definitely like to ensure that, in case of an exigency, it will not at all hesitate in shifting from Manesar. No company of such high repute will continue bearing recurring loses.

Maruti Suzuki India has declared a lockout at the violence hit Manesar plant till the probe into the bloodstained incident is completed. The state government has not set a time-frame to complete the investigation. If it is going to take a longer period of time, like other probes, with extensions of time one after another, then the lockout will be indefinite. The worst effects of the turmoil are not likely to subside. No doubt, the stigma on the illustrious record of the company will take time to fade away.    

Sat Pal is a communication consultant and has worked with several central and state ministers.
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