Things are heating up at the Singareni Collieries Company Limited (SCCL) in Telangana ahead of elections for the recognised trade unions, scheduled to be held on October 5.
The elections are held once every four years, and overseen by the Labour Department.
The SCCL is a government-owned coal mining company, which is jointly owned by the Telangana government and the Centre on a 51:49 equity basis.
The elections to the mines spread over 4 districts, employing thousands of local residents, is seen as a testing ground for 2019, when the entire state will go to the polls.
Last year, 60,247 votes were polled in the election, signifying the strength of workers under the company. There are around 15 trade unions that will go to the polls next month, but only six of them are major players.
Who is contesting
The TRS-affiliated Telangana Boggu Ghani Karmika Sangham (TBGKS) had won the previous elections. The other unions contesting include AITUC (affiliated to CPI), INTUC (affiliated to Congress), CITUC (affiliated to CPM), BMS (affiliated to BJP) and HMS (Hind Mazdoor Sabha).
This time, the INTUC has decided to ally with the AITUC, while the TNTUC has also extended support to the CPI-affiliated union.
Therefore, it looks like the two main contenders for the post are the TBGKS and AITUC.
What's at stake
There is a lot at stake during the SCCL elections. Besides being spread out across 12 Assembly constituencies located in four districts, the area is generally viewed as a TRS stronghold.
In fact, the honorary president of the TBGKS is Nizamabad MP K Kavitha, who is also Chief Minister K Chandrasekhar Rao's daughter.
The stakes are so high, that according to reports, over 50 TRS MLAs and five MPs are campaigning for the TRS-affiliated union on the ground.
'Unkept promises' and grand alliances
All the parties campaigning against the TBGKS are banking on the fact that many of the union's promises from last time, remained unfulfilled on the ground.
Speaking to TNM, TDP national spokesperson E Peddi Reddy said,”They won on tall promises, and four years later, not a single one of those promises have been fulfilled. The TBGKS has even done a complete U-turn on closure of open cast projects (OCPs), which was one of the main agendas. Instead, they are planning to open more, which will result in a higher unemployment rate.”
In December last year, the SCCL had issued a notification on the 'dependent employee scheme', under which the kin an employee would be given employment in the company, when the employee is declared as medically unfit to work.
However, the move's constitutional validity was challenged in the High Court, which found the scheme a violation of the provisions of the Constitution, and quashed it.
This provided a major boost for the trade unions in the opposition.
"All their poll promises were lies. Nothing has reflected on the ground. If they are really so confident, why are so many MPs and MLAs campaigning for it? Why should so many people go there?" E Peddi Reddy asks.
There is also a history of such 'grand coalitions' during the labour union elections.
While the Congress, TRS and Left joined hands in 2004, to defeat the Chandrababu Naidu government successfully, an attempt by the TDP, TRS and Left to defeat the the YS Rajasekhara Reddy-led Congress government, was not as successful.
Politics of coal
When asked about the TDP-affiliated TNTUC's decision to back the AITUC, Reddy said, "We have taken the decision, as contesting as separate unions will result in the vote getting split. If the votes get divided, the TBGKS will have a better chance of winning, and we don't want that."
Meanwhile, the Congress has claimed that the TRS-affiliated union only won during the last elections, because of the sentiment of the Telangana movement, which was extremely strong at the time.
From the Congress, Telangana AICC in-charge RC Khuntia, TPCC president N Uttam Kumar Reddy, INTUC national president Sanjeeva Reddy, MLA T Jeevan Reddy, former Minister D. Sridhar Babu, former MP Ponnam Prabhakar have campaigned in the coal belt, along with CPI State secretary Chada Venkat Reddy, asking for votes on behalf of the AITUC.
TDP working president A Revanth Reddy and E Peddi Reddy and others also toured area, but have maintained a distance from actively campaigning for the Left.
The TRS meanwhile, has seen Deputy CM Mohammad Mahmood Ali, MPs Ponguleti Srinivas Reddy, Pasunuru Dayakar, Balka Suman, Government Chief Whip Koppula Eeshwar, Government Whip Nallala Odelu, along with several MLAs and MLCs campaign for the TBGKS.
Nizamabad MP K Kavitha has also been extensively campaigning for the elections.
"The TRS has completely politicised this issue, even though labour union elections are not supposed to be about politics. If they lose this time, even after so much campaigning, it will signal their own downfall," Peddi Reddy said.
Last year, the TBGKS had bagged 23,311 votes out of 60,247, while the AITUC polled 16,724 votes and the INTUC polled 12,077 votes.
Meanwhile, senior officials of the Labour Department are overseeing the arrangement of deploying adequate polling staff and police personnel in 92 polling booths across 11 regions of the SCCL.