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Deepak Kumar Singh: Calling all cyber-coolies

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Deepak Kumar Singh  |  New Delhi 

At 82, Madhukar Kashinath Pandhe, president of the Centre for Indian Trade Unions (CITU), still travels two weeks in a month, galvanising workers across the country "" nowadays, though, Pandhe is paying more attention to get a foothold in the burgeoning IT/ITeS sector that does not have any organised trade unions at the moment. A beginning has been made and, next month, the first formal union in the IT/ITeS sector will be launched in West Bengal and during the all-India strike planned for December 14, Pandhe hopes to get IT/ITeS employees to participate. The strike is being supported by all trade unions. CITU, Pandhe insists, is all for friendly relations with the management, but for this, the working condition of employees has to be better. Post-liberalisation, Pandhe relishes his job more as the challenges facing the working class are newer and tougher.
Associated with trade union movement since 1948, Pandhe's first brush with trade unions was in 1939 when there was a strike by workers at a textile mill in Sholapur (Maharashtra), across the road from his house. At 14, he used to attend their meetings during the two-month strike. That turned out to be the beginning of his lifelong association with workers. Pandhe went on to do his PhD under Professor D R Gadgil at Gokhale Institute of Politics and Economics (Gadgil was later Deputy Chairman of the Planning Commission) and V V Giri who later became President of India "" his thesis was on "Structures and Functions of Trade Unions".
Pandhe became a member of the Communist Party of India in 1943, and 15 years later, shifted to Delhi to work with the All India Trade Union Congress (AITUC), then headed by SA Dange. Six years after the split in the CPI, when the CITU was launched as the trade union wing of the CPI(M) in 1970, he became the secretary of the new organisation that was then headed by B T Ranadive. He became CPI(M) politburo member in 1998 and CITU president in 2003.
His CITU colleagues are effusive in their praise. "At this point of time, he has no parallel as a trade union leader. The best part of him as a leader is that he manages to bring all trade unions subscribing to different ideologies under one umbrella when it comes to fighting for workers' rights on crucial issues," said Pandhe's CITU colleague and MP Tapan Sen.
Although Pandhe does not have much time for leisure, with a 14-hour work day and constant travel, he does manage to listen to K L Sehgal, Bhimsen Joshi, Shubha Mudgal and some Marathi singers in-between his travels.
Insiders say that when it comes to issues like labour, pension or banking reforms, it is Pandhe, and not the CPI(M)'s more visible faces like Prakash Karat and Sitaram Yechury, who calls the shots. Perhaps why, when you ask Pandhe about West Bengal Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee's opposition to trade unionism or about the CPI(M)'s softening on these issues, he answers with a cryptic smile: "Really? Let's see!"

First Published: Mon, October 30 2006. 00:00 IST
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