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Recalling my meeting with top 'Gandhian' TU leader who had issues with his own organization

By Rajiv Shah
Jay Narayan Vyas, former BJP minister in Gujarat, is right now writing long profiles of some of the well-known names who he thinks have contributed immensely to society and polity. Currently no more in good books of the BJP leadership, Vyas has been even critical of several of Modi policies, including the three recent agricultural Acts – something he has been justifying by stating that even Subramaniam Swamy, a Rajya Sabha MP, has been doing so, which is his – and Swamy’s – “right.” At least this what I have found him stating on Gujarati TV channels as also on Facebook. 
Be that as it may, one of the profiles which Vyas recently wrote on, and which appeared as a two-series article on his Facebook timeline, was that of Arvind Buch, who headed the trade union founded by Mahatma Gandhi, Majur Mahajan. I got interested in it because I recall meeting him in 1981 during my visit to Ahmedabad. At that I was with the semi-Left “Link” weekly in Delhi. In Ahmedabad, I decided to write an article on trade union movement in Gujarat.
My father-in-law, then working in a textile mill and a member of the Gandhian trade union, got me an appointment with Buch, whom I first met Ahmedabad’s Majur Mahajan office along with him. He told me, “We will have dinner together here tomorrow. Will bhakhri shaak do?” I answered, “Sure!” He asked me to come on the next day, and I promptly did. He didn’t offer me the simple bhakhri shaak, which he had offered me as dinner the previous day. He took me instead to one of then topmost Ahmedabad hotel, Cama, in his Ambassador car.
What type of trade union leader was he, I asked myself, but refused to question him, as I wanted to "taste" Cama food. On reaching Cama’s restaurant, he asked me what food would I like to have. I ordered whatever I understood from the meno, as I was not used to taking food in such high profile hotels – I couldn’t even remotely afford it, as my pay was pretty low, less than Rs 500 per month. Finding that I was shy, he ordered for juice and dessert for me.
I still didn’t understand why he had taken me to Cama. After all, at least in appearance he was simple -- he wore khadi. I told him my idea of writing an article on worker class movement in Gujarat. At that time, “Link” appeared to be rated highly, even though journalists working in the weekly were paid poor. Perhaps this is the reason why Buch wanted to tell me what was happening inside Majur Mahajan – or Textile Labour Association (TLA), as it was known in English, especially its internal problems.
Ela Bhatt
“You may write you wish. It is your choice”, Buch told me frankly. “However, I wish to tell you why Elaben Bhatt broke Self-Employed Women’s Association (SEWA) from TLA.” He told me how SEWA, of which he was chairman, existed as part of TLA, but qualified Elaben Bhatt's move as an effort to gain importance. He went at length criticising Elaben Bhatt, a grand old lady (she is 87 now) who is currently chancellor of the Gujarat Vidyapith, established by Gandhiji. Perhaps he thought I had come to investigate SEWA-TLA differences – something which I was least interested in.
I asked him instead what he thought was the aim of the trade union movement, its relations with industrialists, whether TLA stood for organizing working class for a longer struggle instead of believing in what Gandhiji I thought believed in – that industrialists and workers should have a cordial relations, and that tycoons should act as “trustees” of workers, and so on. He answered all these questions, perhaps failing to understand why was I asking these instead of querying on the quarrel with Elaben Bhatt, which was uppermost in his mind.
I met several union leaders, including those attached with CPI and CPI-M, as also Elaben Bhatt. I went to Delhi and wrote an article, whose clip I don’t have now: How the textile mills were collapsing, how the TLA was failing to stand up for workers; that the Left, especially CPI-M was living in the make-believe world that one cannot think of Gujarat without its trade union wing, Centre of Indian Trade Unions, how Elaben Bhatt was organizing self-employed women (I qualified her as Gandhian socialist), and so on.

Comments

Unknown said…
Good to Know about him. I am Babubhai Vaghela from Ahmedabad. Thanks.

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