HYDERABAD: The week-long indefinite strike in the Telangana State Road Transport Corporation (RTC) is heading towards a political slugfest between the ruling TRS and the Opposition parties against the backdrop of a by-election to Huzurnagar Assembly constituency slated to be held on 21 October. As there is no end in sight to solve the impasse, the general public suffered a lot during the Dussehra festival season.
Indications are that as both the sides—RTC employees led by a trade unions joint action committee (JAC) and the government—have stuck to their stands in the last few days and Opposition parties have lent their support to the strike, other employees and workers, too, may join the stir and thus escalate tensions.
Not surprisingly, both the Congress and BJP have given calls to back the strike of RTC employees and have criticised the adamant stance of Chief Minister K. Chandrasekhar Rao (KCR), who threatened to sack the workers who had not reported for duties since last Saturday. Congress legislature party leader Mallu Bhatti Vikramarka called for turning the RTC strike into “a strike to remove the KCR government”.
BJP state unit president K. Laxman led a delegation of his party leaders to Governor Tamilisai Soundara Rajan on Thursday and urged her intervention to solve the strike. The BJP leaders vowed to defend the interests of striking RTC employees in case the government sacks them. “KCR threatening to sack them is nothing but arrogance and ignorance,” Laxman said after meeting the Governor.
An all-party meeting convened by RTC JAC on Thursday witnessed calls for defeating TRS candidate Sanampudi Saidi Reddy in the Huzurnagar by-election to teaching the Chief Minister a lesson. There was immense pressure on the CPI which extended support to the TRS in Huzurnagar to review its stand. Ironically, the CPI affiliated Employees’ Union is a signatory for the strike call.
The two Left parties—CPI and CPIM—have considerable base among RTC employees, but both the parties are believed to be soft on TRS in Huzurnagar by-election. CPI has openly declared its support to the TRS, while the CPIM candidate’s nomination papers were rejected under suspicious circumstances, thus triggering doubts over a secret pact with the ruling party.
If this mood among the RTC employees continues and other employees and workers also back the strike, there might be consorted efforts to defeat the ruling party in the Huzurnagar by-election. Though the BJP has fielded a strong candidate, Kota Rama Rao, an OBC activist in Huzurnagar, the trade unions might support Congress candidate N. Padmavati, wife of PCC president and MP Uttam Kumar Reddy.
It is precisely this situation that the Chief Minister is keen to avoid. He swung into action since Thursday and held talks with other government employees unions and asked them not to join hands with the RTC workers or join any future joint action progammes. KCR is aware that TRS defeat in the Huzurnagar by-election will not only dent his image, but also undermine his political authority in the next four years.
As many as 10,500 buses went off the roads as close to 50,000 RTC employees joined the strike from 5 October. Though the government has made arrangements to rope in 2,000 private buses and another 10,000 cabs and other vehicles to make up for the loss, there is no check on the exorbitant fares charged by the private operators.
A major demand of the RTC JAC is to merge the corporation into government as is being done in neighbouring Andhra Pradesh. Chief Minister KCR has outright rejected the demand and made it clear that there was no question of the RTC being merged into the government. He, moreover, announced that more private operators would be given permits to ply their buses along with RTC.
The Telangana HC on Thursday heard a public interest petition on the RTC strike and called for replies from the government and the trade unions. A division bench headed by Justice Rajasekhara Reddy expressed its displeasure over the breakdown of public transport in the state and questioned the advocate general (AG) on why there were no efforts from the government side to solve the strike. The HC bench hasn’t concurred with the counter furnished by AG B.S. Prasad that the government had made enough arrangements for public transport. The counsels for the trade unions told the HC that the RTC workers had duly served strikes notices on 11 September, but the management had not called for any kind of talks to solve the problem. The HC posted the case for hearing on 15 October.