The politics of coal: It’s TRS vs BJP in the Singareni labour union polls

While the BJP is confident of repeating its success from the recent Lok Sabha elections, the TRS wants to bounce back, so the union polls are being seen as a litmus test for both parties.
The politics of coal: It’s TRS vs BJP in the Singareni labour union polls
The politics of coal: It’s TRS vs BJP in the Singareni labour union polls
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Political parties in Telangana are gearing up for a crucial battle as the stage is set to elect the next trade union of the Singareni Collieries Company Limited (SCCL).

The term of the present trade union, the TRS-affiliated Telangana Boggu Ghani Karmika Sangham (TBGKS), may soon come to an end and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and its affiliated trade union, Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh (BMS), is looking to give the ruling union tough competition. AITUC (affiliated to CPI), INTUC (affiliated to Congress) and HMS (Hind Mazdoor Sabha) are also in the fray.

SCCL is a government-owned coal mining company, which the Telangana government and the Centre own 51:49 on an equity basis. The elections, held by the Labour department, were initially held once every four years, but in 2017 the Central Labour Commission (CLC) reduced the tenure to two years.

A litmus test

The elections are being seen as a litmus test for both the major parties, with the BJP confident that it can repeat its success from the recent Lok Sabha elections, where it won 4 out of the total 17 MP seats in the state. With this, it wants to prove that it is serious about its plans of emerging as a key player in the 2024 Assembly elections.

The TRS, which lost the Nizamabad MP seat held by K Kavitha, Chief Minister K Chandrasekhar Rao’s daughter, is hoping to bounce back and prove to its critics that it still enjoys support in the region.

The Singareni mines are spread over 12 Assembly constituencies and 4 districts in the state; Komaram Bheem-Asifabad, Mancherial, Peddapalli, Jayashankar Bhupalpalli, Bhadradri Kothagudem and Khammam. Over 50,000 workers are registered to vote.

The union polls is often a high-stakes political battle, as several MLAs and MPs are roped in to campaign for their respected unions.

The BJP is banking on former Peddapalli MP G Vivekanand, who recently switched to the party, as he is known to have influence among voters in the area.

Speaking to TNM, Vivekanand says, “We are confident as there is a lot of discontent among workers against the state government and the union.”

Vivekanand cites the revival of the ‘dependent employment scheme’ announced by KCR, where kin of a worker deemed medically unfit are promised employment in the company. “The scheme seems to be rejecting more applications than giving employment, contrary to what KCR promised. The people are not very happy about that,” he says.

Ruling TBGKS confident

Meanwhile, the TBGKS while expressing confidence has also been crying foul about the decision of the Central Labour Commission to reduce its term to two years. A case is also underway at the Telangana High Court.

“Firstly, our term was not announced before the elections. Since they did not win in the 2017 elections, the other trade unions approached the Centre and made it a two-year term. We have court judgements of different unions from across the country who have challenged such moves and won, which we will be using to present our case,” TBGKS President Miryala Raji Reddy tells TNM.

Reddy states that the decision to hold polls depends on the SCCL management and the state government, irrespective of when the union’s tenure ends.

“In case the court judgement is not in our favour, elections could be held in 2020. Either way, we are ready for the polls. We have leadership and cadre. We have ensured more than 5,000 jobs in just 15 months,” he says.

“The other party just poses for photos with a few workers and issues press statements but has no presence on the ground. They have nothing to show, unlike us. We are confident of a sweeping victory irrespective of when the polls are held,” he adds.

Rift within TBGKS to cost TRS?

While the TBGKS appears positive, there is an internal rift in the union that may prove costly. And it is this rift that the BMS is seeking to take advantage of.

Kengarla Mallaiah, the founder of TBGKS, is upset after he has reportedly been sidelined by the TRS leadership. Mallaiah, who has been with the TRS since its inception and was a supporter of the agitation for separate statehood, is a known face in the mines. He is also known to enjoy the support of several workers.

Though he was appointed as a Working President of the union, it has been reported that Mallaiah was not being invited to TBGKS meetings and was therefore likely to jump ship. TNM has learnt that the BMS has made him an offer but he is yet to take the final call.

“The CM has ensured that the ruling union is not functioning well as he wants to grab all the attention for himself and for his daughter Kavitha, as a result of which the prospects of the union is getting affected,” says Vivekanand.

While the BMS is confident that the elections would be held in October, the TBGKS is confident of buying time with its court case, to postpone the polls to 2020.

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