Shouts of 'Johar (Long live) Surender Goud', 'We want justice' rang loud at the Mahatma Gandhi Bus Station (MGBS) in Hyderabad on Monday, and a group of protesters gathered in front of the Gandhi statue.
The anger was visible on the faces of the employees of the Telangana State Road Transport Corporation (TSRTC), as the ongoing strike in the state entered its 10th day after they lost two of their colleagues — Srinivas Reddy and Surender Goud — on Sunday.
Srinivas and Surender were among the 48,000-odd employees, who have been dismissed by the Telangana government for not reporting to duty.
Thousands of striking employees intensified their stir after Srinivas immolated himself. In a separate incident, conductor Surender killed himself at his house in Hyderabad on Sunday. The Joint Action Committee (JAC) of employee unions laid the blame squarely on the ruling Telangana Rashtra Samithi (TRS) government and said that Chief Minister K Chandrasekhar Rao now has 'blood on his hands'.
V Chandrasekhar Reddy, state secretary of the Telangana Mazdoor Union (TMU), told TNM, “People across the state are supporting the movement because it is coming from the grassroots The deaths have upset all of us, it is painful. This should be the last sacrifice. Nobody else should take such extreme steps. We should live for a better Telangana.”
Addressing KCR, he said, "We are non-violent and peaceful now. Don't disturb this and make us violent."
The main demand of the JAC is to merge the Road Transport Corporation, which is running into losses, with the state government. The JAC also has a list of 25 other demands. The striking workers also pointed out that the Telangana government is yet to sanction reimbursement for providing free and concessionary bus passes to school and college students, journalists, police staff on certain duties, senior citizens and persons with disabilities.
Earlier this week, the JAC said that the state government reimbursed only Rs 710 crore, as against Rs 2,700 crore that had been claimed for the last five years (2014-2019).
"The state hasn't paid its dues. Our provident fund money is also hanging fire. Are we asking for anything irrational?” said Chandrasekhar.
'It hurts the morale of honest workers’
Many RTC employees who are currently protesting were also part of the Telangana agitation for separate statehood. They said they participated in the movement because they envisioned a better state for themselves.
"This is not the 'Bangaru Telangana' (Golden Telangana) we dreamed of. We gave them a notice, our demands have been clear from the beginning. Seeing this inaction from the government pains us," a striking worker told TNM.
Srinivasa Chary, secretary of the RTC union for MGBS, said that while they were the ones who fought for Telangana, “it feels shameful to hold a bandh”.
The state government has refused to take back 48,000 striking employees, has called the strike illegal, KCR has rejected all the demands and has ruled out any talks with them.
“It hurts the morale of the honest workers who have given their sweat and blood for the corporation for decades. If RTC survives, all of us will survive. We are the beating heart of the RTC,” says Srinivas.
The striking workers point to neighbouring Andhra Pradesh, where the cabinet approved the decision to merge the debt-ridden Andhra Pradesh State Road Transport Corporation (APSRTC) with the state government, creating a Public Transport Department.
"It was a campaign promise and CM Jagan Mohan Reddy took action immediately after winning the election. KCR, too, said this during the Telangana movement. How can he go back on his word now?” an employee asked.
With no solution in sight, the JAC has decided to intensify the strike by taking up a series of protests this week, including a state-wide shutdown on October 19.