The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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State muscle crushes Honda hands

New Delhi, July 25: Labour unrest at a foreign company snowballed into a brutal battle between police and hundreds of workers at the nerve centre of India’s new economy on the outskirts of the capital, prompting a scramble by Sonia Gandhi to defuse the crisis that has touched a raw nerve in the Left.

As many as 800 workers of Honda Motorcycles and Scooters India, the Japanese company that struck out on its own after a partnership with Hero Honda, were baton-charged today after they ringed the mini-secretariat in Gurgaon to protest police action earlier in the day to break a highway blockade.

An agitation has been going on at the Honda plant for reinstatement of suspended and dismissed workers, some of them leaders of a union yet to be registered.

Union leaders alleged that at least 12 workers were killed but officials refused to confirm any death. In a Gurgaon hospital where scores of the wounded have been admitted, a body lay with injury marks. Hospital authorities said they were not sure if the deceased was among those baton-charged.

Witnesses said policemen pinned down some protesters against iron railings and beat them. The blows also rained on people spreadeagled on the ground.

“I have never seen such police brutality and I would not like to witness it again. You can compare it with Jallianwala Bagh,” said Surajbhan Singh, a witness.

Production at the company in Gurgaon ' a favourite destination for automobile and infotech companies ' had virtually come to a halt after the workers’ agitation.

The sensitive issues involved ' a foreign company and dismissals ' and the fact that the Left has zeroed in on the event compelled Congress chief Sonia, whose party is in power in Haryana where Gurgaon is situated, to reprimand chief minister Bhupinder Singh Hooda. She asked Hooda, camping in Delhi, to rush to Gurgaon.

Apprehending trouble from the Left and an uproar in Parliament, the Congress issued a statement saying Sonia had “directed the chief minister to order an inquiry immediately and take action against whoever may be responsible.” The Prime Minister also expressed “deep anguish and concern”.

But the Left has smelt blood. The CPI deputy leader in the Lok Sabha, Gurudas Dasgupta, was among the first leaders to reach Gurgaon as the Honda workers are affiliated to his union, the Aituc.

“The workers were beaten up brutally in front of my eyes. I myself was manhandled by the police despite showing them my Lok Sabha MP card,” said Dasgupta.

CPM politburo member Brinda Karat will reach the site tomorrow.

Describing the incident as unfortunate, an official of Honda said the suspended employees could not be taken back till a third-party inquiry is completed. The Japanese company, whose no-competition deal with Hero Honda is nearing its end, has 2,500 employees and can make as many bikes a day.


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