Chennai, Dec. 31: In the last two days, M. Sakthivel Murugan was back to being an unassuming mill hand, his status as a member of the Tamil Nadu Legislative Assembly notwithstanding.
“It is sheer pragmatics that you keep a ear to the ground,” said the ADMK MLA representing Ambasamudram constituency in Tirunelveli district.
He talks in the typical dialect of southern Tamil Nadu and still continues to be on the payrolls of Madura Coats as a clerk in the Water Mills Finishing Unit, where one of India’s oldest composite textile mills makes coarse thread. Murugan surprised his colleagues and his constituents when he went back to his old job, at which he has already put in nearly 15 years.
“No job is demeaning even though I have become an MLA last year due to Amma’s (Jayalalithaa’s) grace,” Murugan said over the telephone. “The company does not want to shed me and has granted me special leave for five years till my MLA tenure is over.”
Since his entry last year into Fort St. George, the seat of the state government, Murugan would return to his old office whenever he wasn’t busy with Assembly work in the state capital. “But this is the first time I have actually worked for two days in the regular shifts and, hence, the media glare,” he added with a chuckle.
Since Madura Coats is a privately-run unit with no government stakes or interests, “it does not conflict with my position as an MLA”, Murugan said.
“Fortunately, computerisation has not made my job in the mills redundant yet; in the last two days when I worked, I coordinated with my successor in that slot. Moving from machine to machine, we have to record in the roster the production performance of each worker and this can still be done only manually,” he added.
Madura Coats, in the course of modernisation, has downsized its workforce. The ADMK trade union wing at the mill, the Anna Thozilsanga Peravai, has been virtually dormant for the last two years since one of its office-bearers applied for the voluntary retirement scheme, Murugan said.
With Amma appointing a new set of office-bearers, “I thought I could lend a helping hand in reviving our trade union in the mill”, Murugan said.
The suggestion found many takers among ADMK seniors in Chennai.
Murugan says he still finds “it easy to go in to the mill for work and in the process informally try to strengthen our ATP union” even though the company bans any form of canvassing for union membership.
An MLA can use his “curiosity value” among co-workers to his own advantage, Murugan said.
, adding: “Both my father and mother had each put in more than 40 years at Madura Coats. They also see me as a very responsible worker.”
Murugan joined the company in 1986 after completing his B.Sc. in Physics from St. Xaviers in nearby Palayamkottai and then his Masters from Paramakalyani College in Alwarkuruchi near his native village. A state-level athlete, he had his political baptism in 1984 after he joined the ADMK and became the local panchayat president.
“After all, I should also keep my job in the mill, for what will I do after my MLA term is over'” asked Murugan, adding it was up to the company to pay him or not.