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BAD OLD WAYS

Violence and industrialization do not go together. Violence at a production unit negates all that modern-day industrialization stands for. Yet, industrial units across India are intermittently rocked by violence, often in its ugliest forms. The brutal killing of the chief executive officer of a jute mill in West Bengal can thus be linked to a series of such violent episodes at different times and places across the country. Factory officials and even owners have been murdered by workers or their hired accomplices in the tea gardens of Bengal and Assam and in other industries elsewhere in the country. One of the most shocking of such tragedies in recent years occurred at the Maruti-Suzukiís plant in Haryana two years ago. There are historical reasons why industrial violence is more endemic in some states in India than in others. Bengalís record in this regard has long been the worst, thanks mainly to decades of militancy by left-wing trade unions. The problems facing the jute industry in Bengal are rooted in historical factors, both political and economic. Some of these also relate to the ways the industry is run. The failure of successive governments, both at the Centre and in the state, to pursue a realistic policy on the use of jute bags for the packaging of grain, sugar and other stuff has led to near-permanent confusions in production schedules and marketing strategies. This is no way for an old industry to survive, let alone prosper, in a fast-changing economic scenario.

The tragedy in the jute mill in Bengal has important lessons for Indiaís drive for industrialization. The most obvious of these lessons is that violence belongs to pre-industrialization times when force, rather than laws, held sway. Industrialization, as it is understood today, depends on all parties to a production process agreeing to work in accordance with civilized norms. This is not to suggest that the parties do not have any disagreements. But all of them must accept that violence has no place in industries or any other economic enterprise. More important, the tragedy sends out the message that some old ways must be discarded completely if industrialization is to strike roots in India. It is time that governments at all levels agreed to devise ways in order to end trade union militancy. How far the countryís latest industrialization drive succeeds may depend on how soon the old ways are banished.