Ramesh Yadav wears a hopeless look, but a core of anger glows within. He is angry with the political system and the apathy of the trade union he was part of for over 25 years. The 52-year-old is bitter ever since Hindustan Motors, or ‘Hind Motors’, makers of the iconic Ambassador car, “suspended work” on May 24, 2014. It was a nadir of sorts in the 40-year process of the flight of big industry from Bengal, an exodus driven by militant trade unionism fuelled by political cynicism and myopia.
Five years on, sitting outside his squalid two-room home at the unlit, careworn workers’ line at the abandoned Uttarpara factory—a scary, post-industrial wasteland—about 20 km from Calcutta by the Hooghly, Ramesh says, “Over 600 workers of the 2,500-strong workforce have not opted for the VRS offered by the promoters.” With the latest NSSO report pegging India’s unemployment rate at a four-decade high of 6.1 per cent, Ramesh and his compatriots are part of India’s burgeoning mass of unemployed persons.
“Life has been a struggle,” says the former press shop worker, pointing at the rusted gates and walls with fading graffiti from a time when the Left still held sway, now colonised by creepers.
Ramesh joined Hind Motors as an apprentice on the factory floor in 1980 and became a permanent staff member in 1995. But, he says, “My secure life came crashing down on that fateful May day when the firm announced its decision to stop production of the iconic Ambassador.” A former member of the CITU-affiliated Hind Motors Workers Union, Ramesh, who struggles to keep his family of six afloat by doing odd jobs, feels betrayed. “No party has taken up our plight…they have abandoned us to our fate. I am not interested in politics…elections have no meaning for Hind Motor workers…we are a doomed lot.” Ramesh says that as he’s still a worker of the factory (like others who have not opted for the Rs 1 lakh VRS offered by the C.K. Birla Group), if he takes up a secure job, and it comes to the company’s knowledge, he’ll be issued a showcause notice. “My children are staring at a bleak future; every night I worry about our next meal,” says a despairing Ramesh, who likes praying at the old temple in the premises. A prayer that he doubts will be answered.