A state cowed down by suppression has shown its first big sign of mutiny in the form of the TSRTC strike
The strike of employees of the Telangana State Road Transport Corporation (TSRTC) launched to oppose the alleged government's move to privatise the PSU with a huge asset base, has entered day five on Tuesday.
In an act of defiance, unheard of in the past six years, about 48,000 employees have joined the strike. Even though salaries were denied during the festive season and despite the termination of all employees by chief minister K Chandrasekhar Rao, the strike has recorded near 100% participation, an unsettling fact.
The fact that in the five days, instead of getting disheartened by the mass sacking of employees by the chief minister, the unions enlisted the support from all political parties. On the fifth day, the employees have demonstrated their unshakeable morale.
The all-round sympathy has emboldened striking employees to intensify their agitation. This is what chief minister KCR never expected. "How do you (RTC unions) resort to strike in TRS government in Telangana as you used to do in TDP and Congress governments," the chief minister asked in a statement released after a meeting with the officials.
The employees are demanding among other things the takeover of the corporation by the government.
Observers wonder if the strike is the beginning of the erosion of the TRS supremo's spell over the people of the state.
Because for the first time after the formation of Telangana state, a trade union has publicly defied the chief minister’s directive.
Social media shared and re-shared the stories of the fall of the chief ministers who resorted to wholesale termination of striking employees in the past.
The list of the chief ministers who lost the election that ensued the suppression of the general strikes includes Marri Chenna Reddy, NT Ramarao and Jayalalithaa. The viral details also attributed the defeat of the then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi in 1977 to the suppression of Railway strike in 1974.
KCR, who is known to carry a streak of a dictator, wanted to run Telangana as a state within the state, with the minimal role of the centre and no space for any other political party or dissent.
Reminiscent of NTR's 'Centre is a Myth' delusion, KCR unsuccessfully argued for a state within the state advocating that the centre should confine itself to a couple of departments such as defense and external affairs.
Regionally, he appears to promote a one-party rule. 'Anything anti-TRS or anti-KCR is anti-Telangana and has no place Telangana' is his governing principle.
He has driven TDP out of Telangana branding it as an Andhra party and an enemy of Telangana. YS Jaganmohan Reddy's YSR Congress opted for a graceful exit before being thrown out and has been happy in making common cause with KCR.
The BJP is yet to emerge as a stronger voice in Telangana. The trade unions of state government employees have lost relevance with their leaders sharing power with KCR.
The only trade union with a history of militant agitations is the union of TSRTC. For some inexplicable reason, RTC unions have proven un-amenable to KCR's traditional remedies.
At a time when KCR is deluding himself that in the absence of any modicum of opposition, he can make everything he does glitter like a piece of Bangaru Telangana, the employees of TSRTC have dealt a blow by calling for an indefinite strike, an act of perceived blasphemy.
Instead of fighting for inconsequential pay hike, more ex-gratia or pay revision, the unions of the state’s richest government entity have smelt an ulterior motive in the chief minister's move to allow a subsidiary of Megha Engineering and Infrastructure Limited (MEIL) enter the RTC with electric buses.
Apart from the alleged scam, they have also perceived an imminent threat of privatisation in the move and subsequent loss of thousands of jobs.
All unions of the RTC joined hands and floated a joint action committee (JAC) which amazingly ensured 100% participation in the strike.
The deal with Megha, the leaders of JAC allege, is a scam of worth hundreds of crores of rupees and is part of a larger conspiracy to ultimately transfer the assets worth Rs 1 lakh crore to private operators.
Aswathama Reddy, the chairman of JAC alleges that KCR is hell-bent on privatising the corporation by showing its debt and inefficiency as a ruse.
"But who is responsible for the debts and losses? By levying huge taxes on the RTC, which is a public service utility, and delaying the reimbursement of dues the government itself is trying deliberately to make the corporation sick.
The corporation is not filling up vacancies arising out of the retirement of employees which is affecting the efficiency. The losses of RTC are not real. These figures have been cooked up to manufacture a pretext to privatise the corporation," Aswathama charged.
Confirming the worst fears the chief minister announced his plan of RTC restructure. According to the plan, 50% of buses will be owned by the corporation. 30% of buses will be taken on lease while the remaining 20% will be entrusted to private operators.
He set a deadline for the employees to fall in line and report for duty. With nobody showing up, the chief minister declared all 48,000 employees stood terminated.
Government has clarified that it would not take the terminated employees back and asked the officials to recruit employees to ply the buses while the employees’ unions, backed by TDP, BJP, CPI, CPM, TJS, MRPS and BC associations, declared that their fight would go on till the plan of privatisation was dropped and the RTC merged with the state transport department.
But the strike irrespective of the final outcome will go down as a landmark in post-Telangana politics.