Telangana Chief Minister K Chandrashekar Rao turned into Santa Claus for a day, inviting the representatives of nearly 50,000 road transport corporation (RTC) employees to a Christmas meal and meeting on Sunday. The interaction was a dramatic U-turn for a Chief Minister who has been criticised for his hard-line stance towards the same employees after they went on a 52-day strike from October 5. The TRS leader had told the striking employees that they had committed an "unpardonable crime".
At Sunday's meeting with the employees' representatives the Chief Minister, or KCR, made a number of announcements, including one that confirmed there will be no privatisation of the Road Transport Corporation (TRC). Last month he announced 50 per cent of the bus routes would be privatized and that he had set aside Rs 10,000 crore for the corporation.
He also announced extension of childcare leave - of three months - for women employees.
There was a sting in the tail for RTC employees though. The Chief Minister suggested there should be no more unions in the RTC. Instead, he proposed the formation of Welfare Committees at each depot.
What likely got the biggest cheer was KCR directing the RTC to pay salaries for September; the nearly 50,000 employees who went on strike had not been paid for more than 60 days.
RTC workers began their strike on October 5. They had a list of 26 demands, including a merger with the government so they could become public employees. After a 52-day standoff, last month a joint committee of employees' union called off the strike and warned against punishing or harassing returning workers.
Meanwhile, in the wake of the horrific gang-rape and murder of a 26-year-old woman in Hyderabad, the Chief Minister had also suggested women employees must not be asked to work late into the night and should be home by 8 pm.
"You saw what happened to a doctor recently... they were animals. Why can't you men do night shifts so the women can go home?" he asked.
The Chief Minister's reaction to the crime came three days after the incident, amid mounting pressure on the state authorities. The gang-rape and murder has provoked a massive outpouring of anger across the country and protests in Telangana.