Gopal, came out strongly against the Communist attempt at fomenting unrest at the Tata Steel plant in Jamshedpur in 1958 and was notably conciliatory in his attitude to management thereafter.
In 1993, he was shot in so theatrical and public a manner that shock-waves of grief and anguish radiated out from Jamshedpur shaking up the entire nation. This Mafia style execution was carried out, it seemed, by an ethnically Bihari faction seeking control of the Tata Workers Union as part of a larger extortion racket concerned with rent seeking opportunities associated with scrap metal, sub-contracting, and other such activities in which leverage against the Tata Management might come in handy.
In a recent book titled 'Criminal Capital: Violence, Corruption and Class in India', Andrew Sanchez gives prominence to his meeting with a Tata middle manager, named Ashok, who alleges that his employers were actually complicit in bumping off Gopal despite the latter's resistance to the use of the secret ballot in Union business which would have increased the chances of industrial action and thus cost the Tatas a pretty penny.
However, in this day and age everybody's got a smartphone and the wikipedia app on voice command. So, all you Ashoks or Jasloks out there reading this need to understand that one shouldn't say- 'Tatas haven't had a strike since the 1920's' coz the '58 strike is well documented and part of Commie folklore and the subject of plenty of books and articles.
Goras may be ignorant of how stuff goes down in India but fact-checking is now so easy you can't spin just any old yarn you like.
The other point is, goras who write books- like this Sanchez dude- check their facts once they get home because they don't want to come across as illiterate buffoons. Unless, clearly, they are Professors of 'Social Anthropology' at Cambridge or else the bogeyman of 'Neo-Liberalism' features prominently in the text.
Suppose Sanchez had done a spot of Googling before writing his book, what would he have discovered about Gopal's murder?
1) Gopal was shot on the same day that a Court was due to give a judgment on 'voice votes' vs 'secret ballots'. Killing Gopal so publicly sent the message that it didn't matter who got elected or whether or not industrial action was resorted to. Power lay with the 'Dons'. In the jargon of incomplete contract theory, 'appropriable (as opposed to residuary) rights of control' of a certain type had been asserted.
The Tatas, already weakened by their spat with Russi Modi (like the current contretemps with Cyrus Mistry), were being put on notice that their market cap was in danger unless they increased 'disintegration'- i.e. subcontracting- and soaked up excess 'black' liquidity with scrap metal and other such auctions.
2) It was, the C.P.I MLA, Kedar Das who had taken up the cause of the non-permanent workers and adivasi laborers, not Gopal. But Das died in 1981- a year Sanchez memorializes as featuring 'the violent suppression of a contract worker's strike'. This is not to say that no voices were raised against the injustice being done to the 'temporary' workers or that the same basic problem was not found elsewhere. On the contrary, Labor learnt some very bitter lessons during the Eighties. So did we all.
Gopal, quite properly, wanted a better deal for his members but, being politically very experienced, would never have called a strike in '93 because the State Government, under Lalu, would have broken it with great enthusiasm so that the Bihari clique could pick up the pieces. On the other hand, once Indrajit Gupta became Union Home Minister, Gopal- had he been alive- would have extracted his full pound of flesh.
There is a 'meme' going round that both Gopal and Prof. Abdul Bari were killed by the Tatas. This is quite ridiculous. Trade Unionist/M.LA's of their caliber were vital for the Tatas to fight off local politicians keen to plunder them. I recall hearing the story of Jaganath Mishra trying to get Russi Modi indited on some false M.I.S.A charge to extort money from the Tatas. People like Kedar Das (i.e. pro-Moscow Communists who supported the Emergency) were in a position to protect this 'Capitalist oppressor'! Why would they do so? The answer is simple. If the Capitalist hands over his profit to the Mafia/Politician, only crumbs will be left for the workers.
My grandfather started off as a demagogue, like Prof. Bari. The fact is, workers were able to make quite substantial advances at that time and, strangely enough, even Scottish mill owners got on side because they found that their own profits could go up because there were efficiency gains to be made from having a well fed work force free of the twin evils of the grog shop and the usurer. It was entirely rational for Capitalists to want to build 'model' company towns. Capital and Labor have to co-operate, not try to destroy each other. Gopal was of a younger generation and got his first job with the Tatas. He really was a Company man in that sense.
He well knew the story of the first Parsi trade unionist- his name has been airbrushed from history- who organized the Bengalis to protest against the vastly superior treatment given to White employees. Unfortunately, Subhas Chandra Bose intervened and so nothing came of it. It was politicians who first fucked up the Unions by pretending that workers were weak and need protection.
But such soi disant Protectionism prevented both Indian Capital and Labor from coming up through hard work. Instead, corrupt Rent Seeking became the only game in town.
Sanchez tells the story of what happens to the son of a permanent employee who gets an 'apprenticeship' as part of the Tata in house hereditary caste system. The young man is stuck on a low salary. He will never be made permanent and given housing and so on. Why? Because he'll stop working the moment he gets that coveted status and it will be impossible to fire him. Still, there's a 'Coasian' solution. His supervisor hints he can start sub-contracting. The young man draws up a business plan and goes to the Bank for a loan. He is turned down because he has no business experience or collateral. 'Boo to you, Neo Liberalism! Oh woe is me!- the whole system is corrupt- fucking Tatas, they are all gangsters. Don't you know Ratan Tata held down Cyrus Mistry and fucked him in the ass till he agreed to resign? I bet he also threatened to rape my Bank Manager and post the video on You Tube if I got my loan. What's that you say? Oh. I was supposed to go touch the feet of my local Don was I? By borrowing from a guy who will break my legs if I don't pay up, I send a signal that I've 'skin in the game' and am gonna work my ass off. Makes sense. Wish they'd taught this stuff in my Poli Sci class! Fuck the Professors. They talk bollocks continually. Oookay, just ran the numbers... Hey! this actually works out even better! Once I'm under the Don's wing, I get no Labor or Landlord problems and can soon get all sorts of sweet sweet soft loans and business development grants and fucking environmental awards and shit. Sorry, Sanchez dude, it was swell talking to you, but I've got places to go and people to meet!'
Of course, Sanchez didn't really point out to this young guy that people needed to see he had skin in the game. Instead, he nodded his head as this native informant burbled on about how like Capitalism is a crooked conspiracy dude and there gonna be a Revolution real soon coz the Bank Manager didn't just hand me a sackful of cash even thought I'd like printed up this Excel sheet which showed I was so gonna be a billionaire.
In other words, Witchcraft is real provided it is called neoliberalism.The fact that no one lends money without taking collateral or verifying properly audited Accounts demonstrating exceptional commercial acumen- except a guy who will break your legs if you don't pay- is irrelevant here. Why? Because the native informant is speaking of a type of black magic only the learned foreign Professor is foolish enough to believe in.
That's the problem with Western Professors who actually do field work in the dirty old East. If they are smarter, less gullible, in their verbal interaction than even the stupidest of the 'native informants' they meet, then they defeat their own purpose by ameliorating the picture of dirt and sloth and stupidity which makes their study 'Ethnographic'.
So Sanchez is saying that Indian workers think that Trade Unions are run by gangsters. Since there will be no Trade Union if the factory shuts down because the people running it have all been killed or have run away or don't have any money left, it follows that Indian workers feel that spending all their time agitating rather than doing what they are paid to do will provoke an 'implicit disciplining' which might well take the shape of 'coercion' because gangsters will fuck you up if you thoughtlessly set fire to a cash cow of theirs.
Do Indian workers also think that Capitalists- not Trade Unionists- are all a bunch of gangsters? No. If they did, there would never have been a Trade Union in the first place- that's Gangsterism 101 dude.
When Gabbar Singh said 'kitne aadmi the?' Kaliya did not reply- 'Management is totally out of line to ask how many opponents we faced. This is a blatant provocation and denial of fundamental rights of the worker. We will now gehrao Management till our legitimate demands are met!'
Nobody really believes that the Tatas are a bunch of gangsters. Why? Because they produce things that are of obvious utility and do so in a highly rational manner. Ratan Tata did not really punitively sodomize Mistry. He didn't even go on Twitter threatening to kill his mother. No doubt, both sides have retained lawyers and tempers are heated but nobody expects to see anyone involved being actually gunned down in the street.
Sanchez mentions Vadim Volkov's notion of Capital as having a 'enforcement partnership' with organized crime but, clearly, no Indian thinks the Tatas or Birlas or Ambanis actually have such partnerships because otherwise they would settle their own internecine disputes with gun play as happens in movies about Russian oligarchs. Where the rule of law has been vitiated by opaque or unenforceable property rights or contractual obligations; yes a rent opportunity for Mafia style intermediation exists but this is not and has never been the case for the top end of the Industrial sector- which is well served by top notch lawyers and a storied and sophisticated legal code.
No doubt, some of our current big players started off on the shady side of the street but no physical coercion was required or involved in their burgeoning. Once such players go public, India's well developed system of commercial law is the Schelling focal solution all gravitate to and no amount of political clout can muzzle the wrath of the market or prevent the Courts delivering their, no doubt very dilatory, doom.
Sanchez argues that Indian working class discourse- which accuses Trade Unions and populist politicians of greed and gangsterism- also indicts 'economic liberalisation'.
This is fantasy. Indian workers don't sit around gupshupping about 'Neo-Liberalism' or 'Repressive Desublimation' or 'False consciousness vs Gramscian hegemony' or any other such academic availability cascade. Sanchez himself, even when talking to a worker with an M.A in Politics, can't produce any evidence that this happens. He does, however, provide evidence that Indian workers share the oft stated view of Right Wing nutjobs everywhere that Trade Unions are actually a Mafia style conspiracy against Labor and that Socialism- even in its home-grown 'Naxal' incarnation- is just another word for a Hobbesian state of Nature. Moreover, since Jamshedpur's workers are often third or fourth generation 'wards', everybody knows that Union officials & Communist agitators have always been either rabid murderous nutters or greedy murderous cunts or rabid murderous nutters who are also greedy murderous cunts.
Perhaps Sanchez has a theory about how 'Economic liberalisation'- i.e. Manmohan's vaunted reforms after the I.M.F put a gun to our heads- causes the spread of greed and the dissolution of moral values and thus creates gangsterish Unions and Politicians. Unfortunately, he chooses to put all the blame on Indira Gandhi's Emergency which by some magic managed to completely change the Indian political landscape in less than 2 years.
During the Emergency, the Constitution was changed so that India became a 'Socialist' Republic.
Not 'Liberal', not 'neo-liberal'- Socialist.
After Indira fell, even the fundamental right to property was removed.
There was no 'liberalisation'- economic or political or cultural.
Gangsterism flourished under the Left Front in Bengal for 30 years and continues to flourish under Mamta. By contrast, crime and communal violence have fallen in Modi's Gujarat.
Everybody knows this.
So what is Sanchez actually telling us here?
The only logical answer is that, Capital is the only antidote to senseless Violence because, by definition, it has both the means and the motive to interest itself in promoting the Rule of Law as opposed to the Law of the Jungle.
But this is true only of Sanchez's reception of 'emic' working class Indian discourse.It is with shame that I must confess to you that Sanchez is wrong. You see, in India- not just Delhi or Patna or Jamshedpur- I look and talk like a very low class fellow- a black Madrasi to boot. I engage in 'emic' discourse with workers coz no one believes I've ever been abroad. Etic is not on the table.
True, if I show a modicum of intelligence, the other guy ups his game and I find out something interesting. Still, I'm not a real high I.Q dude. I can't calculate the Shapley value of a game while chewing paan the way any sharp operator from the boondocks can. Still, I do come away having learnt something about 'etic' economics. In this instance, it is that Labor needs the Rule of Law a lot more than Capital which can always hedge in a different jurisdiction or Tiebout model. Old fashioned freedom fighters- people like my mum's dad, but also Prof. Bari or, truth be told, the firebrand Kedar Das, knew this in their bones because those bones had been broken by policemen who later on, were great pals or poodles to the Politician/Gangster nexus.
V.G. Gopal was in a different league intellectually. If he hadn't been killed, maybe he could have done something substantial for 'contract' workers once Congress fell.
But, that's not what Sanchez's book is telling us. He thinks the Indian working class sees, not Capital, but the cash-nexus as inherently criminal. If Sanchez is right, they will vote for Modi not despite but because of all the pain his cackhanded demonetization scheme is putting them through.
The will see it as a 'vishodhana' a purgation of the life-blood of the local dons.
It is a remarkable conclusion to draw from the lucubrations of a politically correct Cambridge Don.
But then, it takes one to know one.