Ranga rajan chakkara

Sep 22, 2021

7 min read

The experiences bestowed by Kanchi-Mahaswami — Part 44

How Indian Express defeated Indira-Anthulay’s conspiracy


Author : Sri S.Gurumurthy

Translator : C.Rangarajan

Kanchi Mahaswami
Datta samant

In October 1981, Indian Express exposed the scam perpetrated by the duo, Indira — Anthulay. It rocked the Nation. Subsequently, they conspired to finish off IE. They unleashed the trade union leader, Datta Samant, who was a history-sheeter. We were able to fend off that existential threat from the terrorist Samant. Let me narrate that.

Who is Datta Samant?

In the 70s & 80s, the whole of Mumbai business world was terrorized by one person called Datta Samant. He was a nightmare to the politicians, business owners, and even to the government. He studied medicine and then became a union leader. He was leading the group of 5000 unions that had an estimated membership of 1.8 million. With his advent, many famous trade unions were eclipsed. He contributed to 1/3 of the strikes at that time in Mumbai. He was not even afraid of committing murders too. He was arrested for trying to murder the relatives of Godrej company owner N.P.Godrej (one of them was a pregnant lady). Since no one was ready to be a witness, Datta Samant got discharged from the case. If a company refuses to provide the requested salary increment, Datta would close it down through strikes. He would not care to evaluate whether the company is in a position to take that burden. The owners had only two options — either, satisfy his needs or close down the business. Datta became the hero of the working class. He was asked by the deadly duo to go after IE. Immediately, he called for the strike. The trade union in IE ran away.

Who is the owner — me or him?

Goenka called me and said, “Guru, Madam & Anthulay have planted a bomb. They have unleashed the rowdy, Datta Samant on us. He has given a strike notice. Now, our fate lies in his hands. Come to Delhi, immediately”. I met Arun Shourie in Delhi and decided to go to Mumbai without Goenka. Goenka further mentioned, “Arun, Guru, If he heads our union then there will be a tussle between him & me on the ownership. He will run the paper. We should not give that space to him”. Marwari Goenka was paying less than the Industry standards. It was offset by the freedom provided by the paper and that attracted the journalists. Datta Samant entered in Nov, 1981. In Dec 1980, the Justice Palekar committee had set the industry-wide wages. Goenka rejected the recommendations of the wage board. It would be followed by a strike and then negotiations. Still, Goenka would pay less than the recommendations. This time, we three — Arun, Iravatham Mahadevan, and myself prevailed upon him to pay the recommended salaries.

Arun Shourie met Datta Samant in Congressman Rajni Patel’s office. Both Samant & Patel were like partners. Samant would give notice and Rajni Patel would mediate with the owners. Arun asked him the reason for targetting IE. Samant said that we have not implemented Palekar’s recommendations. Arun corrected that perception. Then, Samant had asked the IE to pay Rs.3000 on top of Palekar’s recommendations. Samant threatened Shourie by reminding the attempted murder of Godrej’s relatives. Shourie left the place in frustration.

We recommended closing the units to thwart the tactics of Samant. It was agreed by Goenka. He had the stature & personality to take such bold decisions. We decided to handle it legally and had requested Goenka to travel abroad so that there won’t be anyone to negotiate. Goenka left and we gave the lock-out notice. Samant was stunned completely.

Help from RSS trade union

Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh (BMS) was started by the RSS leader Dattopant Thengadi and it emerged as the largest trade union in India. With his handling, he had sidelined the congress & communist trade unions. Goenka told us to meet him. He supported our methods and had deputed Dr.Kinare, Vasanthbhai Mehta to rescue the workers from the clutches of Samant. Dr.Kinare was one of the BMS leaders and Mehta was a business owner, who survived the attempted murder. They knew the dangerous tactics of Samant. This episode taught an important lesson in knowing about one’s opposition completely before confronting them. Arun, Mumbai resident editor Karlekar, and I would meet at Mehta’s home. We were supported by the RSS workers who helped to wean away from the workers from the stranglehold of Samant. This combination helped to win the battle against samant.

Protection force

Twenty-five storeyed Express towers were rented out to many big companies. There was a separate team to manage the electricity, elevators, and AC systems. The head of that team was afraid of samant and quit the job. I had requested a Tamil youth to take up the job. I was asked by the gentleman to take care of his family in case of any exigencies. This will help you to understand the terror reign of samant. Important people were operating from a nearby hotel. I use to frequent Express towers to meet Goenka. No one including samant knew my identity, though they have heard the name.

How Anthulay helped samant

Lock-out notice took everyone by surprise. It was widely debated in the political, press, and judicial circles. As per law, the only establishment that was hosting a huge number of the workforce had to seek Government’s permission before issuing the lock-out notice. Anthulay had helped to amend the law and narrowed down the workforce count. It means that any establishment having more than 100 workers would come under the request purview. IE filed a writ against the amendment. The write stated, “Both the government & samant are suffocating us and we are not able to run the press independently. There are restrictions on the right to express freedom. Silence is one among them and we are planning to be silent by shutting down the shop. They cannot force us to run the IE group in the manner they want”. It was also new to the judiciary. It generated public opinion against Indira-Anthulay duo. Around that time, the Judiciary had ordered to book Anthulay on corruption charges. Anthulay had to resign. Goenka came back. Anthulay’s exit lessened the fear factor and we continued to stay in the IE guest house in the express tower.

Throw Goenka from the 25th floor

All the activities had put pressure on samant. He came to the negotiation table and started scaling down his demands. Our negotiations with the IE workers was continuing. By that time three months had elapsed. Our competitor Times of India was widening its readership. Goenka was losing his patience. In fact, patience was never his virtue.

To save his face, samant reached out to Goenka through an intermediary. Goenka agreed to meet him. We dissuaded him since samant would be check-mated in this end game and did not want Goenka to disrupt that. Half-seriously & half-jokingly we told Goenka that we would through down from the 25th floor. Otherwise, we threatened to leave. Goenka finally relented and told us to proceed as per our plan.

Guru, Samant-Sawant will make us fail

As per our plan, most of the workers decided to resume their duties. We had demanded an apology-cum-good conduct letter from them. This was opposed by samant and he reached out to the court to nullify our demands. This itself was a victory to us since samant never believed in the government institutions and was running his darbar.

While we were celebrating the victory, a case was filed in the Mumbai high court. Famous constitutional lawyer H.M.Seervai was our lawyer and the case came to the bench of Judge Sawant. Goenka warned me about the combination of samant-sawant to me and my friend Janakiraman, who were rushing to the court. It happened just like that. The Judge ordered not to demand a letter from the workers.

Doomed samant

Few workers who were on samant’s side were marching towards the IE office. In an hour, they would enter the office and nullify our victory. We had requested our lawyer to file an oral petition to the review bench against the orders of Judge Sawant. The order was stayed and the police were ordered to restrict the entry of the rebel workers.

We immediately returned to the IE Office and gave the order to the police. Just in nick of time, the rebels were taken care and it was a huge blow to samant. To deviate the heat from this failure, later, he had resorted to textile units strike and forced the closure of sixty-five of them. It led to the decimation of the textile industry and lakhs of people lost their livelihood. Though he won in the 1984 Loksabha elections, his popularity was getting eroded. He was murdered in 1997

This episode brought in a huge windfall in my life. Many industrialists reached out to me to handle trade union violence. My fame grew further in that circle. Arun Shourie is jotting all these in his upcoming book.