| Protesters drive cattle towards police after tear-gas shelling in Gurgaon on Tuesday. Picture by Rajesh Kumar
New Delhi, July 26: Infuriated women grappling with burly, baton-wielding policemen. Cat-and-mouse fights on the streets famed for high-rise office blocks and swanky shopping malls. And a public ultimatum by the Left to a foreign company.
Fresh images of strife in Gurgaon continued to transfix the country for the second day today, handing the Left an emotive issue to stage the first walkout on the UPA government and warn of a widespread campaign against Honda, the company at the centre of the controversy.
Hundreds of employees of Honda Motorcycle and Scooter India, a subsidiary of Japan’s Honda Motor, were injured yesterday in a police crackdown. The employees have been agitating to get their suspended and sacked colleagues reinstated. The company today declared a temporary shutdown.
The issue also threatened to assume wider overtones with the Japanese ambassador to India striking a warning note on investment prospects and the external affairs ministry stepping out of its usual preserve to calm nerves.
Seizing on an issue that appears to have struck a sympathetic chord across the country largely because of the brutal images of the police action, the Left seems intent on using the momentum to push its pet themes and address the concerns of its constituency.
The Left brought up the matter during a meeting with the Prime Minister in the evening to discuss the outcome of his trip to the US.
The Left leaders demanded an immediate settlement, including lifting of the “illegal lockout” at the Honda plant.
They said unless all dismissed or suspended employees are taken back and cases withdrawn, a nationwide movement would be launched. August 1 would be observed as “protest day”.
“Even the Honda dealers could face the music,” CPI leader A.B. Bardhan said after the meeting with the Prime Minister, which was also attended by the CPM’s Prakash Karat.
Perhaps fearing an escalation, Japanese ambassador Yasukuni Enoki had told reporters earlier in the day: “This is a disadvantage for India’s image as an FDI destination and also this is a negative image for Japanese business.”
The comment prompted the Indian foreign ministry to put out a statement describing the clash as an isolated incident, adding: “The legal interest of foreign investors will be fully safeguarded.”
Told about the envoy’s comments, Bardhan said: “If they (multinationals) do illegal things, we will stop them. They have to abide by the law of the land.”
Some industry representatives said the controversy highlighted the need for “flexible” labour laws.
In the morning, as distraught relatives of employees fought a pitched battle with the police force in riot gear in Haryana, another brawl broke out in Parliament.
Catching both the government and the Opposition by surprise, the Left spearheaded the assault in the House. Home minister Shivraj Patil’s statement that only 92 people ' unofficial estimates put the figure close to 500 ' were injured enraged the Left further.
Left MPs accused the minister of making a lukewarm statement and walked out of Parliament as Sonia Gandhi, Arjun Singh and Pranab Mukherjee looked on. The “official” Opposition, the NDA, soon gathered its wits and followed in the Left footsteps.
Patil, who said it was not in the Centre’s jurisdiction to ask the Haryana government to order a judicial inquiry, had to relent eventually. The probe, originally slated to be carried out by a magistrate, would be conducted by a retired judge.
But the Left is insisting that the officials concerned should be suspended immediately.