Are the RTC employees caught in a bind? Till midnight of Tuesday, 6 November, the deadline set by Telangana chief minister K Chandrasekhar Rao to the 48000 striking employees to rejoin work, just about 300 gave it in writing that they will return to duty. That translates to a meagre 0.6 per cent of the workforce of the Telangana bus corporation that has been off work since 5 October.
Anecdotal evidence suggested that while the RTC unions still command support from a large section of its employees who feel rejoining work will be to surrender their right to protest in the future, whatever be the circumstances at work, the same unions are also preventing a significant number who want to break away. In cases, where employees have expressed a desire to rejoin duty, they have been heckled, threatened and in some cases, even assaulted. Even though police commissioners and district police chiefs assured such RTC employees of safety, that has not been enough to break the strike.
What happens next? After the cabinet meeting last week, KCR said he was giving the three-day window period for employees to reconsider their decision to strike, as a goodwill gesture. While announcing 5100 private buses (of the total fleet of 10400 buses), the CM said if the employees do not return, he will give away the remaining 5300-odd buses also into private hands. That will eventually make a Telangana a RTC-mukt state.
But it won’t be so easy. Two parties are expected to come into the imbroglio in a more forceful manner. One, the Telangana High court that is hearing the matter and has not been too pleased with the Telangana government’s handling of the issue. Two, the Centre that holds 31 per cent stake in the RTC and whose opinion should ideally matter if KCR wants to undertake dramatic changes in the structure of the public transport corporation.
What will KCR do? So far, the CM was hoping going without receiving a salary for two months now (September, when the employees worked and October, when they were on strike) will weaken the employees resolve to stay off work. That ploy has not worked. He is of the opinion that the union leaders with an aggressive streak and backed by opposition parties are leading the employees up the garden path and hoped they would see reason. That too has not worked.
The CM was also hoping that public opinion would turn against the RTC employees. That also has not happened with the citizen finding fault with both the government and unions as they find both are standing on prestige and ego, without a care for the public they are meant to take care of.
The Telangana government is certain to go to the Supreme court, if the High court gives an adverse ruling. That may only prolong the stalemate. Meanwhile the commuter in Telangana continues to put to hardship, with meagre services operated by temporary drivers and conductors for over 30 days now and having having to pay through his nose to travel by private transport.