Messing up in Manesar: why is PM silent on this?
In Manesar, 42 km from the PM’s bungalow on Race Course Road, large parts of the country’s manufacturing giant, Maruti, have been gutted. The entire Japanese community of investors and others like them – save, perhaps, round-trippers from Mauritius – are pissed off. Never in their tumultuous investment relationship with India has a general manager-level officer been lynched to death; a man called Awanish Kumar Dev, his body unrecognizable. Never before have Japanese expats, known for their politeness and non-controversial insularity, targeted as a group and hammered by local workers, on most metrics among the best compensated folks in India’s manufacturing sector.
But not a word from the PM, now juggling the hat as the nation’s CFO, busy as he is living down Pranab Mukherjee’s ghost. Not a word from anyone who counts in the cabinet either, or even Rahul baba, if nothing for a project pretty central to his grandma’s economic legacy.
Oh, we forgot, the industry and commerce minister!
But what Anand Sharma has said is to the effect that one incident won’t affect the investment attractions of India. Like hell it won’t! Is the man batting for China? Or is he unwittingly rubbing salt in the raw wounds of those invested in the India story? Unless he’s busy making a case for mounting an inane junket to Japan, couldn’t Sharma, at the very least, have met the Japanese executives beaten up, one of them being the plant manager?
So much for Delhi’s grip.
That said, what’s Haryana, recently feted by the Prof Michael Porter-inspired Institute of Competiveness, as India’s “most innovation-driven” state, done for its marquee investor? How about a special investigation team (SIT) led by an assistant commissioner of police (ACP) and six pot-belied juniors.Ha!
The state police comprises really busy blokes! A mere ACP to collect evidence, file a charge sheet, prosecute the gang of killers, in what surely is among the most gruesome crimes in the history of shop floors of an Indian blue-chip company? That after RC Bhargava, the Maruti chairman, has declared an indefinite lockout at Manesar until the murderers roam free? This ACP, going by the name of Ravinder Tomar, not even a direct recruit from the Indian Police Service, is all that Haryana has to pursue an FIR under section 302 against unidentified persons and 55 identified and the 99 arrested! One ACP on the hunt to search a needle from a haystack of 3,000 workers!
I fear for such inertia raging from New Delhi to Chandigarh. Their standard operating procedure is that some technicality will be found, and Maruti and Bhargava told to get back to work in their own interest. After all, the revenue implication of a lockout would be Rs 60-70 crore a day!
Haryana’s illiterate response poses a challenge in an unlikely quarter. I refer here to Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi. At the time of going to press, Modi would be in a deep dive of a four-day tour to Japan. Some eager beavers have reported that the Gujarat CEO will leverage the “opportunity” to showcase a relocation of Maruti. I wonder if Modi is that unwise. It’s one thing to have sent a mere SMS to Ratan Tata and have had him dump Bengal and set the Nano up in Gujarat. But telling a foreign company to do that at the cost of a fellow Indian state is a political Achilles’ Heel for someone aspiring to be PM.
That said, another set of illiterates have alluded that Modi’s “rush” to Japan was, in fact, prompted by the Maruti killing. Wow! The man must be Barack Obama. Who else could he have secured 44 engagements in 72 hours between the Wednesday heist and his touch down at Tokyo airport Sunday, and have deputy prime minister Katsuya Okada and three former prime ministers, Shinzo Abe, Yasuo Fukuda and Koichiro Gemba, waiting to pump his hands. Also, Yuichiro Hata, the land, infrastructure, transport and tourism minister, and the chairman of Japan External Trade Organization (JETRO) and Japanese majors Sumitomo, IHI Corporation, BTMU, Mitsubishi Corporation, Hitachi & Itochu Corporation and, of course, Suzuki.
To demystify the Suzuki angle, all that the speculators needed to have done was to Google it! The algorithm would tell them that Suzuki already has a signed agreement with Modi for a third facility in Mehsana (the first being Gurgaon and the other being Manesar). The foray to ModiLand, spread across 700 acres, entails an investment of Rs 4,000 crore in the first phase of the manufacturing unit. This could mean 7,000 new jobs, a good dose of political testosterone ahead of assembly elections at the end of the year.
Plus, cars aren’t produced without vendors. Maruti and Modi are the best in the business to know that. So, while Haryana’s police babus play out their buffoonery, a raft of Maruti ancillaries are certainly on Modi’s radar (an estimated employment of three lakh people is attributed to Maruti!). For those wondering how he will convince land owners to part with their land, he’s perceived to be one CM in a sea of political inertia who just might deliver land to projects he shepherds personally. Scenting this, there’s already a sudden rise in land prices around the belt identified for the vendors.
To Haryan’s good luck, Suzuki is no fool to walk out in a huff. It certainly played its cards badly in the new Manesar plant, ignoring cultural alignment with the Gurgaon facility, a fact that has blown up into conceding two unions without any rationale for two sets of wages. But that said, the company has to retain its currency with all peaceful employees. For that ACP Tomar has to deliver an iron-cast case that assuages a raft of frayed nerves. Thereon, if there are arrests and suspensions, his worthy chief minister has to display political sagacity to be able to control the inevitable break out of retaliation by anti-social elements.
Sure, Suzuki has few options but to wait for tangible evidence of justice. It’ll have to keep the negotiations warm with Modi, without annoying the prickly rulers at Delhi. The government of India does not have a single share in the company left to twist the Japanese, but financial institutions have 12.67 percent (the public, by way of comparison, has only 2.47 percent). Plus, Suzuki has stakes with New Delhi’s babus in motor cycles.
The site of a completely burnt-down office complex is a public relations nightmare for Haryana and India. Amidst all this, Suzuki is miffed already over the unpredictable macro factors to match up with India’s sudden differential between diesel and petrol, which has brought Japanese car makers like itself, known for their indifference to diesel, on their knees. The lockout is as painful a blow, as are problems in the aftermath, not to mention other harebrained ideas in the regulatory works, a star-labelling system for cars for example, aimed to hit Maruti the most. With this happening to the boldest of Japanese investors, there’s a lot happening to mess up the mood of a notoriously cautious tribe.