Telangana turns into a battle ground as KCR sacks striking staff

The opposition Congress, BJP and left parties have extended support to the striking employees. Photo - PTI

After showing the door to nearly 48,000 employees of the state-run road transport corporation, one of the biggest layoffs at one go by any state government, Telangana Chief Minister K Chandrasekhar Rao has opened a new battle front amid growing opposition attack.

A day after crushing the indefinite strike by the employees of the Telangana State Road Transport Corporation (TSRTC), the state government on Monday (October 7) ordered a crackdown on protesters.

The leaders of the Joint Action Committee (JAC) of Telangana RTC employees and workers’ unions including its convener Ashwathama Reddy were arrested in Hyderabad.

Scores of union leaders proceeded to the Telangana Martyrs’ memorial in the heart of the city where they were taken into custody. The city police had earlier denied permission for the RTC employees to organise protests at Indira Park.

“We condemn the dictatorial attitude of the government. RTC is not KCR’s personal property to take decisions according to his whims and fancies. We will chalk out our future plan of action soon,” the JAC Convener said.

The city police declared that the rally was illegal. “We have specific information that the JAC leaders are planning to mobilise thousands of people. It might lead to disturbance of peace and create law and order breakdown. So we won’t allow any meeting at Indira Park,” the city joint commissioner of police P Vishwa Prasad said.

The employees have been demanding, among other things, merger of the RTC with the state government as was done in neighbouring Andhra Pradesh, where they are being treated as government employees with their retirement age being enhanced to 60 years. They are also demanding revision of their salaries pending since April 2017 and fresh recruitment in the corporation to reduce workload.

“The Chief Minister is planning to privatise the RTC, showing our strike as an excuse. He is making baseless allegations against the striking employees and resorting to intimidating tactics. We are not going to succumb to any pressures,” Ashwathama Reddy said.

The opposition Congress, BJP and left parties have extended support to the striking employees and stepped up attack on the TRS government for its unilateral and undemocratic decisions.

Also read: 48,000 striking transport employees sacked in Telangana

Opposition solidarity

While there appears to be no public sympathy for the striking workers, the opposition parties have thrown their weight behind the employees and supported their demands.

Commuters were put to severe hardship, with buses going off the roads in the middle of festival season. The TSRTC has a fleet of 10,500 buses. Out of over 50,000 agitating employees, only 1,200 returned to their work by 6 pm on Saturday, the deadline set by the government to the striking staff.

Congress floor leader in the Assembly, Mallu Bhatti Vikramarka said the dismissal of thousands of employees at one stroke showed KCR’s arrogance.

“In a democratic country, workers have every right to agitate for their rights and the government has to hold negotiations with them to resolve their issues. But KCR is resorting to undemocratic practises,” he said.

Telangana BJP president K Laxman strongly condemned “the thoughtless and provocative decision” taken by KCR to dismiss the striking RTC employees.

He said that the Chief Minister had no right to take the unilateral action without any substantial reason. “His order will be challenged in courts and can never be actually implemented,” he said.

State BJP spokesman K Krishna Sagar Rao demanded that the Chief Minister himself should invite union leaders for talks and resolve their issues. “KCR’s adamant attitude shows his fascist centralisation of power and undemocratic spirit. He cannot consider the strike as a revolt against him or a personal humiliation,” Rao said.

State Congress chief Uttam Kumar Reddy took to Twitter to condemn the government’s move and express solidarity with the employees. “We fully support their demand for the merger of RTC into the state government,” he said.

Also read: TSRTC unions bus strike enters second day

Jayalalithaa’s template

KCR’s move has drawn comparison with the former Tamil Nadu Chief Minister J Jayalalithaa’s response to a similar situation in 2003.  She had dismissed 1.76 lakh government employees who had gone on strike. Following the court’s intervention, her government later agreed to take back the employees on its terms. The reinstatement was subject to every employee tendering an unconditional apology as well as giving an undertaking that they will not go on strike in future.

In Telangana too, KCR ordered recruitment of new employees after taking an undertaking from them that they will not go on strike.riking staff