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Not ours: Leader Yes, ours: Letter

Dec. 17: The Trinamul Congress today scrambled to distance itself from a key accused in the disturbances at a steel plant that led to the alleged assault on a general manager in Durgapur on Saturday.

“Our government’s declared stand is that we will not encourage any kind of militant trade unionism. If any individual or group belonging to any party has any problem with the authorities, they should try to peacefully resolve the matter and the factory should not close under any circumstance,” Purnendu Bose, the state labour minister and former Trinamul union leader, told The Telegraph today.

Bose added that he had spoken to Rajiv Jajodia, the director of Jai Balaji Industries that employs 5,000 people in the plant. Delay in payment of salaries was cited as the reason for the unrest. “I told him that action will be taken if it is found that any kind of unlawful activity has taken place,” the minister said.

Although the government sent a stern message against labour militancy, a pattern of papering over the ruling party’s association with the alleged perpetrators emerged. But an affiliation certificate and an accused who is speaking up has put the strategy on thin ice in this case. (See chart)

The government’s rush was in sharp contrast with its lukewarm response when trouble erupted in Haldia and led to the eventual pullout of Haldia Bulk Terminals.

One crucial difference in Durgapur was that the alleged attack became public on the eve of chief minister Mamata Banerjee’s interaction with industry captains in Delhi.

Another is the absence of business competitors closely associated with Trinamul Congress.

The ruling party in Bengal has been blaming either infiltrators from the CPM or disowning enforcers whenever matters blow up in its face. Such a practice has also helped the party brush under the carpet factionalism that has spawned multiple claimants to spoils in areas with some degree of commercial activity.

The FIR on the detention of 25 executives in the factory, which preceded the alleged assault on the general manager, names Ashim Pramanik, the leader of a plant union affiliated to the Trinamul labour arm.

“We do not know Pramanik and he has no links with Trinamul or the INTTUC,” the union’s district president, Prabhat Chatterjee, said today.

However, this newspaper is in possession of an affiliation certificate attributed to Purnendu Bose, then INTTUC Bengal president and current labour minister.

Chatterjee’s claim and the letter triggered convulsions that ended in a claim that Pramanik had been “verbally” told to dissociate himself from the union — an unusual way to jettison ties when a formal certificate had been issued in his name earlier.

But Pramanik insisted that he is the general secretary of the union of a unit in the plant and spilled the beans on the faction-ridden labour politics. “Prabhat Chatterjee is trying to put his followers in place of me as I belong to his rival camp. I have become a scapegoat,” said Pramanik, who has been staying away from home, fearing arrest.

The plant authorities have lodged a complaint against Pramanik at Coke Oven police station.

Arun Thatoi, the general manager who has complained of the assault, said today: “I did not go to the plant as I needed rest. My family is traumatised.”

Work went on at the plant today but “some of our executives have not come today out of fear”, said Niranjan Gourisaria, senior vice-president of Jai Balaji Industries.