K Chandrasekhar Rao is being hailed as a leader with a big heart.
The Telangana RTC employees are relieved that they have got back to their job after having been mass sacked on 6 October.
The public is happy that the 52-day long bus strike is over. Though it comes with a 20 paise hike for every km that the commuter travels on.
That’s the narrative you will get in one section of the media. It is not completely untrue but as the RTC buses gets back on the road from Friday, the question that also needs to be asked is whether over 25 RTC employees had to die for such benevolence to be granted.
For those who do not know the back story, here it is. In September, RTC unions gave notice for a strike because they wanted 26 demands to be met. While the problematic demand was merger with the government, the employees were also asking for better working conditions which should have been granted without any fuss.
But no. The government decided to adopt a hardline and refused to buckle down. It dismissed 48000-odd employees in one stroke on day 2 of the strike, spoke about privatising half the fleet, refused to pay salaries for the month of September when the employees had worked and put temporary drivers on the job.
Why? Because KCR believed the strike was backed by opposition parties with an eye to destabilise his government.
I have a few issues with the way this entire issue was handled and what does it mean for people in Telangana, going forward.
K Chandrasekhar Rao
What KCR has done is to convey that in his regime, no one will be allowed to step out of line. He also showed himself to be smart political mind who played mindgames with the employees, allowing them to get really desperate to get back to their jobs, making them nervous with planted stories of a voluntary retirement scheme. In the end, the employees have got back, with no demand met, on KCR’s terms.
To be fair to the chief minister, he did offer the employees a three-day window in between to resume work. But only a handful – around 300 employees – took up the offer.
But while KCR’s penchant to use the opportunity to cut the union leaders and their political backers to size is understandable, did it have to be at the cost of over 25 people who died either due to heart attack or committed suicide. Is KCR’s offer of a job in the RTC to a family member of a deceased employee sufficient balm for the tragic loss?
If KCR is indeed the fatherly figure of Telangana, as he and his TRS believes he is, what prevented him from engaging with the RTC employees? Why is it so difficult for politicians to resist the temptation to look at every crisis as a political opportunity instead of trying to address some of the genuine grievances?
Today KCR may be heralded as a benevolent CM but the fact that over 25 people died under his watch, cannot be overlooked.
GOVERNMENT EMPLOYEES AND THE UNIONS
The next time anyone wants to protest, the RTC strike and the way it was dealt with, will be cited as an example why no employee should strike work. Good from the public point of view but what is democracy if you cannot even voice your concerns in a legitimate manner.
The strike is also a textbook lesson in how much can employees trust the unions. Many of these unions are full of political elements, out to work out their own deals. If KCR is part responsible for the tragic deaths, so are these union leaders who too sat on ego and prestige, converting a RTC strike into a political battle with the government.
Confrontation is all very well but the unions are meant to represent the employees and work for them, not work against them. They used militant methods to prevent some employees to break the strike and get back to work.
THE PUBLIC OF TELANGANA
Rather heartlessly, some members of the ruling party have been casting aspersions on the deaths, suggesting they had nothing to do with the trauma of no employment, no salaries since September. How is it that the votaries of Telangana did not put out the same reason when people died during the Telangana agitation. To suggest this now is both heartless and crude. It cannot be that a person who commits suicide is a martyr for the cause of Telangana when it suits you and just another death when it does not suit your narrative.
What about those who suffered collateral damage. Who will apologise to the family of Sohini Saxena, the techie who came under the wheel of a RTC bus which was being driven by a temporary driver this week.
OPPOSITION PARTIES :
They tried their best to take advantage of the RTC strike but failed. They failed in the Huzurnagar byelection in October where they expected the strike to be a poll issue. They failed to force KCR to soften his stance.
Meanwhile, the visuals streaming in are of RTC employees happy to rejoin work. When it looked like they will add to the unemployment figures, they have got their old jobs back. Life for them, has been about seeing victory in defeat.