COM.PRABHAT KAR

It is but a few who acquire the status of the mythical Prometheus, who is fabled to have stolen fire from the gods and brought it down to earth for the benefit of mankind. Com.Prabhat can only be described as the Prometheus of the bank employees' movement, the Commander Par Excellence who 'found it mud and left it marble'. A major portion of his seventy four years on this planet was lived in searing dedication to the cause of bank employees, He was so much the architect, the high priest, the life-breath of the bank employees' movement going under the name of AlBEA, such an integral, intricate part of it, that it is difficult to speak of the one without referring to the other, He finally died with his boots on, his last breath being rasped out in the cause of bank employees.

Com.Prabhat was born on 13th October, 1910 in Calcutta in a middle class family not very different from the ones from which today's bank employees hail. In 1928 as a youth of 18 he had his first taste of the freedom struggle when he joined as a volunteer in the Calcutta Congress Session, After graduating from the Presidency College in Calcutta in 1931 he joined the services of Lloyds Bank Ltd" as a clerk in 1933, It is here that he first witnessed and experienced the rampant and inhuman conditions to which this section of the working class was subjected, The situation obtaining then is beyond our imagination today, The right of hire and fire prevailed and employees were often hired only to be fired. Service conditions were non-existent and the word 'union' was an unutterable blasphemy. The hold of the pay master on his workers was complete and total. Destinies were made and broken at the mere whim of the 'Employer' which was only a euphemism to describe the lord and master.

It is in such an hostile environment that Com.Prabhat had his baptism in the Trade Union Movement. From 1933, the year in which he joined the bank, till 1946 he was fully immersed in organizing bank employees against these sub- human conditions.

Right from the beginning Com.Prabhat was clear as to the cause underlying this primitive exploitation. He was aware that what he witnessed in the banks was only the expression of a larger callous system which continuously endeavoured to keep the worker oppressed and harassed. Hence from the very day he joined the bank he was conscious that this situation could be battled only by a workers' organisation of comparable size and strength. Envisaging the broadest platform of unity possible in the then prevailing situation and circumstances, Com.Prabhat made the organising of the entire lot of bank employees in the banking industry his prime target.

With the characteristic courage of his convictions and vision which in later years came to be reckoned as his hall mark, Com.Prabhat, along with a group of young, angry but dedicated comrades took the historic decision on 9th April, 1941 to form an all India organisation for bank employees. On 20th April, 1946 this vision stood translated into reality as the AIBEA took formal shape on the banks of the HooghIy.

At the time when the AIBEA was founded, in certain pockets in some of the banks, there were a few fledgling organisatlons. But all these were struggling against immense odds even for survival. There was nothing present on the Trade Union scene in the banking industry to encourage the formation of an all-embracing industry level organisation.

Yet from the day the AIBEA was founded Com.Prabhat started a ceaseless and unremitting struggle to unify all banks employees under a single banner. "One industry, one union" had become his immediate lodestar. In the meantime he was already shouldering the responsibility of being the General Secretary of the Bengal Provincial Bank Employees' Association.

On 17th August, 1948, Com.Prabhat, as General Secretary of BPBEA, led the sympathy strike in support of the 19 days' strike by the employees of the Central Bank. L10yds Bank declared a lock out for 26 days because the employees of L10yds Bank had also participated in the strike under the leadership of Com.Prabhat. In the after- math of this strike, 51 employees including Com.Prabhat, were dismissed from L10yds Bank. Subsequently Com.Kar and 11 others from L10yds Bank were convicted under the Industrial Disputes Act, 1947 for having participated in the "illegal" strike. The dismissal issue was later on brought before the Sen Tribunal which ordered reinstatement of 40 of the dismissed employees but excluded Com.Prabhat and 10 others from reinstatement. However the vindictive management of L10yds Bank went on appeal, against these reinstatements. After 9 years of protracted and attritional legal battle, the Supreme Court reinstated these 40 comrades in June, 1958.

Two things are noteworthy here. The first is that it is possible that the management of L10yds Bank, given its class bias, foresaw in Prabhat Kar the awakening titan of the bank employees movement and decided to ruthlessly crush him to obviate such a possibility. Their persistent vindictive attitude towards him betrays as much. The fact that the Sen Tribunal also deemed it fit to exclude him from reinstatement perhaps indicated the first recognition, albeit negative, by the powers that be of the emerging status of Prabhat.

The second noteworthy point is that amongst the 51 initially dismissed from L10yds Bank was Shri Sen Gupta who subsequently became the Chairman of the United Bank of India. Had Com.Prabhat also chosen a similar path, perhaps... Had this been the case, the bank employees movement would certainly have been the poorer.

It certainly must have been crucifying for an individual of 38 years age to stand dismissed from service and to be confronted with the prospect of further gruelling struggle in the years to come. The 'period 1953 to 1966 was a period of incessant, relentless and prolonged struggles for both Com.Prabhat and the AIBEA which he had come to represent as its General Secretary since his election to that post at the 5th Conference of the AIBEA held at Lucknow in 1953. It was during this period that the sweep of the organisation came to acquire an unprecedented magnitude. The AIBEA fought bitter battles inside the portals of tribunals and outside in the street under the stewardship of Com.Prabhat.

During this period, in 1957, Com.Prabhat was elected to the Parliament from the Hooghly constituency. During his tenure in Parliament Com.Prabhat Kar took up the issue of bigger banks' taking over small banks that went into liquidation and saw to it that an amendment was made to the Banking Company's Act to that effect, while also endeavouring to ensure that the employees of the liquidated banks' were absorbed into the new banks. The first bank to be taken over was the Indo- Commercial by the Punjab National Bank.

In 1961 Com.Prabhat Kar participated as a member of the Bonus subcommittee at the Indian Labour Conference at Bangalore, where it was decided that the entire Banking Industry, both private and public sectors, excluding the RBI, would come under the purview of the Bonus Commission.

The phase of tribunalisation and third party intervention came to a decisive end with the signing of the historic first ever industry level Bipartite Settlement under the captaincy of Com.Prabhat it 1966. In bringing about this unique settlement Com.Prabhat, along with Com.Parvana, had toiled ceaselessly. The dream and slogan of "One union, One industry" had now assumed formal shape and begun the process of fleshing out with the signing of this settlement. Here again it was Com.Prabhat's strong conviction that the signing of such an industry level settlement which would include under the comprehensive sweep of its umbrella virtually the entire banking industry, would also resultantly strengthen and streamline the growing unity of bank employees under the banner of AlBEA. The dialectics of uniform wage structure and service conditions would produce dynamics that would strengthen the, environment for bank employees' unity.

The Signing of this First Bipartite Settlement metamorphosed the status of both the AlBEA and the bank employees. It constitutes a decisive watershed in the history of the movement since the period of definite consolidation of the movement and advancement commences from this point. The AlBEA has never looked back after this.

It was also during this period that yet another aspect of this multifaceted genius stood demonstrated - his mastery of the art of negotiation. This mastery was to acquire legendary proportions through the authoring of the succeeding Bipartite Settlements. The quality that was peculiarly his own at the negotiating table was that while Com. Prabhat was never aggressive, always persuasive, yet without yielding any quarter to the management, he carried them along with him. The most strident of antagonists came around to accept his view point slowly but surely.

While this acme of his genius stood displayed in one form at the negotiating table, yet another side to it was displayed in the reinstatement of 135 comrades of Syndicate Bank. In the year 1965, the management of Syndicate Bank dismissed 135 of its employees following an agitation, and mulishly persisted in its refusal to reinstate them despite persistent attempts. Com.Prabhat stepped onto the scene and a series of negotiations commenced with the management, spread over a period of two years at different centres. It was virtually a war of attrition across the table. As the talks continued without any apparent breakthrough many began to lose confidence. Some began to have misgivings. But Com.Prabhat persisted with paramount, unbounded patience. The management unable to with stand the gentle onslaught of this dogged persistence, finally cried a halt and reinstated all the dismissed comrades. Com, Prabhat had once again achieved the impossible.

The period that followed was an era of bipartism. AlBEA grew from strength to strength under the stewardship of Com.Prabhat Kar. In 1967 he was elected to the Parliament for the second time. In 1969 when 14 major banks were nationalised Com.Prabhat Kar along with Com.Parvana met the then Prime Minister Mrs.Indira Gandhi and suggested improvements in the structure of the Banks.

Having thus far devoted his attention to aspects of wages and service conditions, in the 17th Conference of the AlBEA held at Madras in 1973, Com.Prabhat made a bold departure by laying more emphasis on national problems and called for a change in the credit policies of the government. This concern for the nation, the role the banking industry played in the growth of the nation, and the potential of the bank employees to influence this role played by the industry in the nation's growth, increased over the years. In successive conferences Com.Prabhat's emphasis on this sphere of activity also increased as this conviction grew.

A personal and organisational set back for Com.Prabhat was the passing away of Com.Parvana in 1975. His responsibilities increased as a result of this sad loss. In the period that followed, the securing of the III Bipartite settlement formed one of the sternest of organisational challenges faced by Com.Prabhat in his long tenure as pilot of the movement. The government at the helm of affairs was the Janata Government which had triumphed at the hustings with a massive mandate from the electorate in the aftermath of the emergency. And the Government was headed by Morarji Desai as the Prime Minister. When the AlBEA proposed the long overdue wage revision for bank employees it was the Prime Minister himself who thundered that bank employees enjoyed best of both the worlds and therefore there was no question of any wage increase for them. NQ only did the government rule out any wage revision but also simultaneously attempted to foist the obnoxious Boothalingam Committee D.A, formula on the bank employees. The resistance to imposition of this formula in other industries was tepid.

A battle royal ensued therefore between the AlBEA and the government in which Com. Prabhat directed the use of every known item of weaponry from work-to- rule and other forms of agitation to novel methods like short duration strikes at different centres. The government had to finally bow before the combined might of the bank employees and Com.Prabhat once again achieved the impossible by signing the III Bipartite Settlement.

The Fourth Bipartite Settlement came to the Bank employees virtually on a silver platter as it was achieved with comparatively less struggle. The movement had come full circle under the stewardship of Com.Prabhat. It has progressed from the situation of protracted battles for small gains to that of limited struggles for major gains. The subsequent period witnessed Com.Prabhat busily engaged in the task of organising the officers under the banner of the AIBOA of which he was the Founder President.

In the midst of these activities Com.Prabhat travelled to Nizamabad in Andhra Pradesh on 24-11-1984 to inaugurate the Conference of State Bank of Hyderabad Staff Association. While on his way back to Hyderabad from this Conference, he collapsed in the car in which he was travelling. It was 9-30 p.m. of 27th November, 1984.

Thus he passed on to the ages, serving the cause for which he lived upto the last breath of his life. There are only a few who continue to live beyond the grave, for whom death signifies nothing more than the mere consignment of mortal remains to dust. That immortality is truly noble which is achieved in the cause of organising the masses. That immortality is uniquely Prabhat's.