The two-week-old indefinite strike by Telangana state road transport corporation (TSRTC) employees turned political today, with all Opposition parties in the state joining a day-long state bandh, staging protest rallies and forcing the closure of shops and establishments in support of their demands.
Barring a few incidents of stone-pelting on buses plying with temporary staff, the law and order situation remained under control during the day as the police arrested the striking employees, political activists and leaders across the state as they were trying to block the roads and bus depots.
Over 48,000 employees of TSRTC, including drivers, conductors and mechanics, led by a joint action committee of employee organisations, started the indefinite strike on October 5 after the state government refused to accept any of the 25 demands, major ones being pay revision and the merger of their services with that of the government.
The striking employees did not blink even when the government said those who didn't join duty by October 6 evening would be treated as 'self-dismissed', a warning Chief minister K Chandrasekhara Rao himself reiterated several times later.
The state government has maintained that the pay rise demand was completely unjust as the corporation was already incurring annual losses of about Rs 1,500 crore while the merger of services with the government was simply out of question.
Though the government partly restored public transport services by using temporary staff and private vehicles such as school buses in a bid to minimise inconvenience to the public, the strike continued to gather momentum. The Communist Party of India (CPI) state unit withdrew support to the ruling TRS party in the Huzurabad assembly by-election after it became clear that the government wasn't inclined to holds talks with the RTC unions.
The striking employees received a morale boost on Friday when the High Court, in continuation of its hearing of the issue, asked the RTC management to start talks with the employee unions for an amicable solution on Saturday itself, in complete contrast to the 'self-dismissed' stance of the government. However, the employee leaders said they had not received any invitation for negotiations so far.
Taking exception to the lack of response to a similar suggestion among other directions given in this matter by the court last week, the division bench headed by chief justice R S Chowhan said it failed to understand the government's attitude towards the strike even as half of their demands have no financial implications and deserved to be examined.
Apart from political parties, state government employee associations also declared solidarity with the striking RTC staff today, staging lunch demonstrations in front of the state secretariat and other government offices.