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Com. Prabhat Kar - The Doyen

Com. Prabhat Kar - The Doyen

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 AIBEA, 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 Kar 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.

Even during his school days, Com. Prabhat Kar displayed his brilliance, always secured very high marks and ranks in every class. The Presidency College of Calcutta, around that time was a very prestigious institution and admission was available only for the highly efficient. He graduated in the year 1932 with high honours. 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 Kar 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 organising bank employees against these sub-human conditions. He organized the employees of Lloyds Bank in Calcutta, numbering around 600 and formed Lloyds Bank Indian Staff Association in May, 1946. He was naturally elected as its General Secretary. Right from the beginning Com. Prabhat Kar 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 Hooghly. At the time when the AIBEA was founded, in certain pockets in some of the banks, there were a few fledgling organisations. 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 which was formed in February, 1947. In 1948 Central Bank employees in Calcutta were on an indefinite strike against the non-implementation of Sen Tribunal Award in that Bank.

BPBEA was extending all possible support to the striking employees. But suddenly, the then President of AIBEA, Soumyendra Tagore issued a press statement that all bank employees in Bengal would go on strike in support of Central Bank employees. At that time some of the Unions including of the Lloyds Bank were before a Tribunal and hence any strike by them would obviously be declared illegal. But knowing all these complications full-well, Com. Prabhat Kar, as General Secretary of BPBEA, still decided that prestige of AIBEA’s call is important and hence decided to implement the call. On 17th August 1948, Com. Prabhat led the solidarity strike from the front. Lloyds Bank management instituted criminal proceedings under the I D Act against 11 of the Lloyds Bank leaders and suspended them. Against this provocation, all the employees of Lloyds Bank observed strike but management declared a virtual lock out. The management issued a newspaper advertisement on 27th October, 1948 informing the dismissal of all the employees and advertised for recruitment of new staff. There was a prolonged strike against this provocative action and ultimately, all except 40 employees were allowed to join. After nearly 10 years of protracted and attritional legal battle, the Supreme Court reinstated all these comrades in June, 1958 except Com. Prabhat Kar. 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 grueling 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 streets under the stewardship of Com. Prabhat Kar. 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 alsoendeavouring 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. He was again elected to the Lok Sabha in 1962. 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 Kar in 1966. The Signing of this First Bipartite Settlement metamorphosed the status of both the AIBEA 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 AIBEA has never looked back after this. The period that followed was an era of bipartism. AIBEA grew from strength to strength under the stewardship of Com. Prabhat Kar. Another outstanding contribution of Com. Prabhat Kar to our movement, nay, our country, is the nationalization of major Banks. Com. Prabhat Kar led a very powerful campaign and struggle by the bank employees which resulted in the major decision being taken by the Government. After achieving nationalization of Banks, in the 17th Conference of the AIBEA 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 Kar’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 Kar 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 AIBEA 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. Not only did the government rule out any wage revision but alsosimultaneously 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 royale ensued therefore between the AIBEA and the government in which Com. Prabhat Kar 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 organizing the officers under the banner of the AIBOA of which he was the Founder President. In the midst of these activities Com. Prabhat Kar 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.


Read 1168 times Last modified on Thursday, 08 February 2018 20:04
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The days ahead are riddled with hurdles and innumerable too. We need to keep IBEU moving through our militant and committed activities. We should one and all to rise up to the occasion and squarely meet the challenges. United we stand, Divided we fail. Let us march in shoulder to shoulder and meet the challenges ahead.

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