RTC employee who immolated himself dies, KCR needs to hold talks

With close to 90 per cent burns and the high possibility of infection, there was little chance Srinivas Reddy would survive. He didn’t. The Telangana State Road Transport Corporation (TSRTC) driver from Khammam succumbed to his burns on Sunday at DRDO hospital in Hyderabad, after battling for his life for close to 24 hours.

Death, that too by suicide, leaves you numb. More so, when people get carried away by anguish over what they perceive is gross injustice. 

“All RTC workers and their families should be happy. It is alright even if anything happens to me,” were Reddy’s last words recorded on a mobile camera, his body completely burnt. 

Srinivas Reddy was aggrieved that chief minister K Chandrasekhar Rao had showed no empathy for their list of 26 demands. Even though the demand for strike was given by the unions on 3 September, the Telangana government showed no urgency in engaging with them till just before the strike. When the strike began on the morning of 5 October, KCR gave an ultimatum of 6 pm the same evening to return to work, failing which they would be dismissed. 48000 of the 49000-odd did not pay heed and were deemed to have been sacked. 

With the strike coming right in the middle of the Dussehra season, commuters were obviously put to inconvenience. The striking employees evoked nil sympathy who cursed and abused them. The CM’s decision was right, was the initial reaction from bus depots from harried citizens, looking for a mode of transport to travel to their destination. 

Not any more. And the change started happening even before Reddy had taken the extreme step. That is because an elected government, more so a regime that came to power after having led a people’s agitation, is expected to be more responsive. The CM is expected to lend a sympathetic ear, not set a deadline of 12 hours and adopt a “Or else” attitude.

Yes, the counter argument can be that many of the demands cannot be met. Or that the government cannot be seen to be caving under pressure. Or that 44 per cent salary fitment was given to the RTC in 2015. 

Fair enough. But there has to be a process of dialogue. What the government is doing is to give the impression of being a feudal force that cannot and should not be questioned. What prevented it from carrying out back channel talks with the unions to defuse the situation ahead of the strike. If the people of Telangana are put to inconvenience and students are losing precious classes because of a forced extended break till 20 October, the government is as responsible as the unions.

The unions have some reasonable demands and some unreasonable demands. A government is elected by the people to sort out such issues. The employees cannot be entirely held responsible for the TSRTC running into losses, the government’s policies have to take the bulk of the blame. 

My heart reaches out to Srinivas Reddy’s family. Suicide is no solution to woes. But we are talking of 48000 families and that is a significant number. Let it be borne in mind that many families are going through a lot of trauma, scared of losing the breadwinner losing his/her job for ever. Two employees have died of heart attack so far. 

The CM has the stature and the political heft to make employees listen to him. He needs to reach out to those aggrieved because the Jayalalithaa template of using the stick isn’t always the best approach in a democracy. 

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