On July 18, 2012, a part of the Maruti Suzuki factory in Manesar was set on fire. One manager died and more than 90 managers were injured, as were many workers. This violence was unprecedented in the history of the company.
The manager who died that day was Awanish Kumar Dev. In an interview a few days after his death, his brother told The Economic Times: “There was simmering tension at the Manesar plant for quite some time and Awanish had put in his papers. He was very stressed out and could have seen this coming. He was all set to join another organisation but had finally decided to give in to the persuasion of senior officials of the company.”
The brother went on to say: “We are now definite that the attack on my brother was pre-planned. It wouldn’t have been possible otherwise to summon over 3,000 people in such a short time. Our 80-year-old father, Rameshwar Saha is demanding a CBI probe into the incident.” The workers say that the people who instigated the violence were some 100 to 150 bouncers who came during the second shift. These bouncers entered in workers’ uniform and started the fire and beat up the managers. The workers alleged in a case they filed that Awanish was killed at the instigation of another manager with whom he had serious differences. That manager, they said, told the bouncers to break Awanish’s legs and set the room on fire. The workers’ petition was dismissed.
So far, we do not know who planned the violence and with what motive. The management had called the police and there was a substantial police presence there; why did they not intervene and stop the violence? Why was the security force employed by the company not able to rescue the manager? And, worst of all, why did no one want to know what the grievances of the workers were?
Whoever was responsible for inciting the violence knew that there was simmering resentment among the workers because the management had stalled the negotiations on the union’s charter of demands; that, therefore, the workers could be instigated and this could be used as a cover for something else.
The Japanese management was shocked by the violence but refused to admit that the workers had genuine grievances. Shinzo Nakanishi, managing director and chief executive of Maruti Suzuki India, said this type of violence had never happened anywhere in Suzuki Motor Corp’s global operations – it had never happened in Hungary, Indonesia, Spain, Pakistan, Thailand, Malaysia, China, the Philippines.
Nakanishi announced: “We are going to de-recognise Maruti Suzuki Workers’ Union and dismiss all workers named in connection with the incident. We will not compromise at all in such instances of barbaric, unprovoked violence.” When asked whether Suzuki Motor intended to close down their factory in Manesar, he categorically denied the rumour. Nakanishi declared that they would continue to manufacture in Manesar, and that the Suzuki factory being set up in Hansalpur, Gujarat (which finally opened in 2017), was in addition to the Manesar plant, not an alternative to it.
Osamu Suzuki, chairman of Suzuki Motor, in an interview to Aroon Purie of India Today, said: “I don’t consider this a union–management labour issue; I term it as a criminal act, and, of course, it shocked me.” He also told journalists that “all those who indulged in this violence – there were 546 people – have been identified and [their services] have been terminated.”
In fact, the number of workers whose services were terminated was 2,500; of these, 546 were permanent workers while the rest were contract workers.
One year after the 2012 violence in Manesar, Kenichi Ayukawa, who became the chief executive officer of Maruti Suzuki India Ltd on April 1, 2013, refused to accept that the violence reflected any genuine grievances of the workers. He said in an interview that the events were “orchestrated mob” violence that didn’t seem to stem from a dispute over wages or working conditions.
Ayukawa said his top priority was to “delete” memories of the riot.
An internal enquiry by Suzuki Motor Corporation had found “miscommunication and management failure” among the reasons for the 2012 violence. The events of July 18, 2012, thus gave the Japanese an opportunity to tighten their grip over the Indian subsidiary.
Three executives were stripped of their powers: SY Siddiqui and MM Singh, who were directly in charge of the situation at Manesar at the time, and S Maitra, who was in charge of the supply chain. The three affected executives were the seniormost Indians in the company, besides RC Bhargava, who was at the time the non-executive chairman.
Suzuki deputed two Japanese officials to keep a close watch on the plant and production activities in the company. Toshiaki Hasuike was named the joint director of Maruti while Toshio Ozawa was brought in as advisor for human resources. Now, the Japanese were in full control of the Indian subsidiary.
It is not clear who in the management decided to hire a Bangalore-based “Vedic astrologer” to sort out vaastu issues at the Manesar plant. The astrologer, Daivajna KN Somayaji, was brought in to ensure that the violence of July 18, 2012, did not occur ever again.
According to this astrologer, the problem was rooted in the fact that a part of the 600-acre plant site had once served as a burial ground. Besides, he said, three temples which existed at the site had been razed to set up the plant. There was too much negative energy at the site. The astrologer was asked to purge the site of all negative energy through a series of rituals spread over two to three weeks.
A visit to the astrologer’s website revealed that he “specialises” in advising the young professionals and business executives on various key projects and career aspects, such as venture capital, portfolio management, and primary/secondary market, International trade, banking, diversification, reviving the sick industries, IT companies and various industrial issues. He is an expert advisor on issues such as Marriage, Education, Children, Domestic relationship and Commercial Aspects.
“He has travelled extensively across India and constantly travels to Russia, European Countries, US, Middle East, Bangladesh, Nepal, Singapore, Hong Kong, Malaysia, Sri Lanka, Canada and Australia.”
These special skills do not make him an expert on issues of wages, working conditions of workers and the right of workers to form trade unions – issues that the management should have been seeking advice on.
The management also called in Brahmakumaris to deal with the rage of the workers. Groups of workers were made to learn meditation; and yoga was made compulsory for workers. The meditation was supposed to help workers deal with their anger. However, according to the charge sheet filed by the Special Investigation Team (SIT) formed to probe the incident, the violence at Maruti Suzuki India’s Manesar plant was not instigated from outside, but was due to internal issues between management and workers.
Excerpted with permission from Japanese Management, Indian Resistance: The Struggles of the Maruti Suzuki Workers, Anjali Deshpande and Nandita Haksar, Speaking Tiger Books.