The bank management headed by the Dy.Gen.Manager, Mr. R V Pai, at the Circle Office in Kolkata, was quick to act. Having been briefed by Ramamurthy, the Divisional Manager, during the previous night itself, the DGM had ordered the AGM Mr.K V Bhat to visit the branch in the morning to conduct an enquiry on the episode and to submit a report to him for further action. Mr.Bhat arrived at our branch at the opening hour itself.
As we reached the branch in the morning, we found all sorts of stories spreading fast about the episode in the previous night. The actual participants in the episode were in great demand to give their versions. All the employees were highly agitated, in view of the fact that such an incidence of violence had never taken place earlier in the history of the branch. The branch had a strength of 130 employees and about 15 employees were either participants or witnesses to the episode. The officers including Mr.Mallya, the Manager in-charge of credit, were also eager to hear directly from us. The arrival of Mr.Bhat for the enquiry further increased the tension in the branch.
There was one great relief for me right in the morning. As I was sitting in a different wing and as there was nobody else to take my place there, it was felt that it was operationally difficult for me to hold the first set of keys. Hence a decision was taken to hand over the same to Mallya who was sitting in the main branch. This decision relieved me from the ‘onerous’ duty and enabled me to concentrate on my routine work.
We were eager to know the names of employees that were given to the Police Officer in the night by Maller. Maller had kept it a secret without disclosing the same even to us. Naturally the same names were furnished by him to Mr. Bhat also. By the afternoon, Mr. Bhat had completed the enquiry by recording the statements of all the persons involved in the incident. It seems he had already recorded the statement of Padmanabhan at the hospital.
By evening a rumour started spreading that the bank had suspended some employees and charge-sheeted the others involved in the physical assault. The Union leaders were highly agitated. No other bank management had taken such a severe action in the past in the history of Canara Bank in Kolkata. The day passed off peacefully. But there were definite signs of trouble in the offing in the wake of expected action by the management. Meanwhile there was no let up in the non-cooperation by the Union and we could go home only late in the night as usual.
At about 3 pm on the next day, the expected orders reached the branch. The rumours were indeed right. The bank had served orders of suspension on five leaders and charge-sheeted another seven employees. The moment the orders were served on the employees, all hell broke out at the branch.
I do not wish to elaborate here the sufferings undergone by us in the next few days. Suffice to say that it was the ‘allopathic dose’ that was given to us, as had been threatened by the Union leaders earlier. The non-cooperation spread to each and every department and I was tied up in my own department till late in the night. There used to be frequent demonstrations at the branch with employees from other branches also joining the party.
The names of two of the employees who were charge-sheeted led to quite a bit of surprise and shock. Maller had named one Mr. Chandan and another Mr. Nitai as the employees involved in the physical assault. No doubt these two were among the cashiers who were present at the time of assault. But they were excellent workers and known to be such ‘softies’ who would not dare to hit even mosquitoes! Charge-sheeting of these two, created a lot of heartburning among the Union members. Some of them vociferously demanded explanation from the Union leaders. They felt that the records of these two employees were spoiled because of the wrong handling of the situation by the leaders. The leaders were at a loss to give proper explanation and convince their members.
We were tempted to ask Maller the reasons for including the names of the two. He simply told us that it was self-explanatory. We could not make out anything and were clueless. Maller explained to us that the management would always like to hit the Union where it hurts most. It likes to strike at the underbelly of the Union and in the present case it was the names of these two employees that did the trick. The two were excellent workers who cared a lot about their service records. They were expected to come out successful in the promotion test and interview once they became eligible. They would definitely curse the Union for the rest of their career/ life for spoiling their records. Maller was quite aware that the two were nowhere near the scene of action on that night. But by adding their names he had created a situation that the leaders were finding difficult to wriggle out! We were stunned to hear the explanation of Maller!
The management allowed the agitation by the Union to continue and peak out (at our cost!). Ultimately there were negotiations leading to the withdrawal of suspension orders. However, the charge-sheets were kept open. The Union agreed to withdraw its non-cooperation and to restore normal working at the branch. The sordid chapter at the branch at last came to an end.
There was a comic side of the episode of assault at the branch. People simply could not understand as to how Maller managed to evade physical assault on him, while Padmanabhan was being badly thrashed. Nobody could believe that Union members were kind enough to spare Maller and their target was only Padmanabhan. But there was indeed an explanation and it was quite funny. Maller (malla means wrestler in Kannada) being a wrestler, managed to evade the blows by ducking below the table once the candles on his table were extinguished! But Padmanabhan, who belonged to the Malayali warrior community of Nair, simply fought it out even though he was outnumbered by 1:10! It was believed that he had returned the ‘favour in kind’ to at least some of his attackers!
------- (To be continued)
A V Krishnamurthy