To Alma Mater With Gratitude

To Alma Mater With Gratitude

This is a day in my life which I would like to live twice. I am grateful to this Institute for bestowing this ‘Lifetime Achievement Award’ on me.

I was overcome with emotion when I was informed about this award, and I am yet to get over it fully. Sir, my years at this Institute has impacted my life deeply. I would like to share gratefully my feelings as I look back.

I came to this institute in 1971 and graduated in 1973. 

When I entered Bombay Labour Institute [as it was called then; now called Late Narayan Meghaji Lokhande Maharashtra Institute of Labour Studies, LNMLMILS] in 1971, I had had more than a cursory image of the industrial world. I grew up in Tata Power’s housing colony at Khopoli. Bombay-Poona Highway literally bisected this colony; on one side were the bungalows of management staff and on the other side were the houses of blue collar workers. This divide and significance of this layout was obvious even to a young boy as I was then.

Later as a part of my training at this Institute I was placed at Spring Mills of Bombay Dyeing, then a renowned company, at Naigaon in Mumbai. The Spring Mills opened my eyes to a very different industrial world. I had not seen anything like it. The contrast between the working environment at Tata Power and Spring Mills was not just stark but also shocking to me. 

I am ever grateful to this Institute; my days here were responsible for sharpening my sensitivity for people issues.

The Bangladesh Liberation war was fought in 1971. The period of three years 1970 to 1973 during which I studied here, was very eventful. Not just in my life; it was eventful in the history of our nation too.

I entered the Institute in 1971. In those days newspapers often carried headlines of Supreme Court judgements. The ‘Banks Nationalisation’ case was decided in February 1970, ‘Privy Purse’ case was decided in December 1970. ‘Golaknath’ case was decided in 1967 but the 24th amendment to the Constitution which was intended to nullify its effect was brought forth in 1970. It was in ‘Kesavanand Bharati’ case that Golaknath case was reviewed and it was decided in on 24th April 1973. The ripples of these decisions were felt when I was studying at this institute.   

Nani Palkhivala became our hero. All these cases created acute awareness of issues involving fundamental rights, liberty and how power could be misused. As a student, my understanding of these issues was limited, nevertheless this period had its indelible mark on the minds of students of my time. Awareness of fundamental rights, liberty and the problems associated with misuse of power is essential for the success of every HR professional.

The conflict between the judiciary and the executive caught the imagination of students of my time. The conflict between the Church and the King is centuries old and well known. The conflict between students of this institute as employee champion and their business leader was in the same mould.

I know that these events shaped attitude of students of my time to a large extent. Many students would take a value based position on conflicts.

There were several strikes for bonus and wage demands in the seventies, and the most significant strike of the seventies was undoubtedly the Railway Strike.  The seventies was the time of socialist thinking. Several movies also played this theme.  Capitalism was bad, it was fashionable to think so. The interesting aspect was that the Government itself was promoting socialist thought by its actions. The nationalisation of banks is a good evidence if one is needed at all. 

The textile strike in the eighties and the globalisation in the nineties were waves that reshaped responses of HR managers. Unions enjoyed and flaunted raw power till the mid-eighties. Violence was common. All this has receded substantially and the tide has turned. The Government and Employers are showing an unprecedented insensitivity to the labour issues. There is indiscriminate use of contract labour and the political leaders seem to be completely oblivious to its impact on the Society.

These radical changes have often raised doubts about man’s ability to empathise, to understand others, and to practise fairness.  

I am mentioning this because our institute has always promoted a humane approach to the employee relations issues. The students who passed out from here have championed the cause of fair and just practices in their organisations while there were tumultuous changes in the world outside. 

This is why, Sir, I say I am a student of this institute with a sense of pride. And how can I forget the professors of this Institute who shaped our thinking and in a way shaped our future? 

I fondly remember Dr BR Rairikar who was the Director and a researcher par excellence, and Dr VG Mhetras who succeeded him. And Dr Shanta Vaidya, our professor of Industrial Psychology and Industrial Sociology – she was the one to whom I always looked for guidance.

I met Dr Shanta Vaidya at her home in Pune a few years ago. She presented a book to me. She had authored it. I was amazed. She had written and published a book at the age of eighty-two! I touched her feet and said ‘I pray to the Lord to give me the fortune of publishing a book at the age of eighty-two just like my Professor.’ She was not just a guru but also the personification of ‘continuous learning.’

Ladies and Gentlemen, with professors like her was it possible for students like me to remain Teflon coated and not imbibe such virtues?

I have had my share of success and failure in my career spanning thirty-seven years. I have had my moments of glory and moments of obscurity. Two lessons I learnt here at this institute guided me through all time – Firstly, learning must never stop – we must read, think and write every day; and the secondly, people must know what we stand for, and they must also know what we do not stand for.

These two lessons were the gift of this institute to me. I made every effort to practise them. And, on this occasion, I promise to continue to practise it till my last breath – that, in my opinion will be the fitting ‘Gurudakshina’ to this institute.

Thank you ladies and gentlemen, and thank you Sir, for giving me this award.

Vivek S Patwardhan

[My Acceptance Speech at LNMLMILS, Parel, Mumbai when I was presented Lifetime Achievement Award; On July 7, 2018]