Every step ahead for reforms in India has come accompanied by a refrain to Victor Hugo’s observation of eternal appeal; no force on earth can stop an idea whose time has come. So be it with the month-long Telangana State RTC workers’ strike, which has now entered the final decisive phase.
While the journey of economic and political reforms in India have followed a chequered path, resembling a drunken Sisyphus than a Usain Bolt on fire, there have been those moments when a leader here, or a leader there, has resolved to take a firm step, and give in to no opposition or reconsideration. Telangana has reached such a moment here under chief minister K. Chandrashekar Rao, whose media statements after a Cabinet meeting on Saturday evening, leave no doubt — there is no going back on the RTC issue.
A socialist-era RTC with monopoly has been relegated into history, and there is no button to press to turn it back. The private buses in several routes are here to stay too. Cronyism or not, competition has been created for bus routes of the state and there will be reversals. The only question now for RTC workers and trade unions is — will you eat humble pie and go back to work, save your jobs or lose it all. And they have two more days to respond.
The larger issue, emotions created by news reports of suicides and heart attacks of striking workers and the plight of their families considered, and then kept aside, is simple — the numbers.
State-subsidised socialism, destroying all competition, providing a monopoly, created over 50,000 RTC jobs in all these decades — at a public investment running into billions of rupees. The RTC staff had safe jobs, assured monthly salaries, near immunity from traffic rules — recall the last time a RTC driver was checked for drunken driving, wearing a seat belt (do those buses even have one?), or reckless driving, speeding, jumping a signal?
Contrast it with the imperfect capitalism of auto-rickshaw drivers, entrepreneurs who never got their due, but who, at zero investment from government, could create over three lakh self-employed jobs in Hyderabad alone. Now add the tech-empowered global capitalism dimension — nearly two lakh
Uber and Ola drivers on streets of Hyderabad alone — who serve the same purpose.
Now ask: on what basis can an RTC driver feel more entitled than an auto or Uber driver? Who is a relic here, a fossil of a bygone era?
By giving a three-day notice, Chief Minister Rao has been too kind to the RTC. By giving an opportunity to join back their jobs, the CM has benevolently overlooked the arm-twisting intent of the obdurate, Luddite, trade union leaders. By offering them their jobs back, Mr Rao has offered them a deal too generous.
They must now heed the call of history — workers of RTC, unite to end the strike and return to work. Or write your own obituary. And your time is nearly over.