Strike over, crisis persists

The employees called off their strike even when none of their demands were met. The government invoked ESMA and threatened dismissals, and the courts ruled against the strike. A Kashmir Life report.

Regardless of the plots, all Hollywood films on extra-terrestrials have a similar ending – aliens are off the screen but exist around. The 12-days strike of the state government employees had the same ending – strike was called off but the issues remained unsettled. The end came like an art film in a way, according to a middle rung officer that “many trade union leaders and most of the cabinet sub-committee did not know that the strike is over.”

“We were under pressure from all sides,” said Nazir Ahmad Mir, the president of the secretariat employees association, “The people were against us, the government was after us and the court turned against us, so there was no option but to resume duties.” It was at this juncture that the chief minister stated that the demands would be met within three months and “we grabbed it.” But an officer privy to the developments said, “putting an end to the strike was decided a day ahead of the high court verdict on a Public Interest Litigation.”

The larger issue, however, remains. If a state lacks capacity to manage Rs 800 crore – as first of the five equal installments of Sixth Pay Commission arrears, right now how can it manage the same in three months? The state plan is awaiting finalization from the Planning Commission. There is no indication from the central government that they will intervene to prevent recurrence of the ‘clerical unrest’.

“At no point of time were we not talking, both formally and informally,” said an officer. “For government it is always better to talk to people who are with it (apparently detained) than thosewho are out.” There might have been talking, rather a lot of it, but the two sides did not seem to opt for a bargain which would have been good for the betterment of the governance in coming days.

Nobody in the government is in a position to say what the employees would offer it in lieu of getting arrears. Managing improved tax compliance or doubling power tariff collections could have been one thing that the government should have asked for. Even possibility of subscribing to the new pension scheme in lieu of arrears could have been discussed which would have eased the salary burden.

Government, however, forcing the striking employees into submission very intelligently. Initially it encouraged all the trade unions to come to the table – more voices, more confusion. It launched a concerted counter-campaign that despite having faulty facts hit the right target. No employee could say that they are not a useless army because most of them like teachers, doctors, paramedics, engineers are actually taking salaries against delivery of services. Invoking ESMA, the government sent many to jail, left others out and permitted the luxury of being in police station during the day and dining at home in the night to one of them. This triggered confusion and led employees to think on terms of dove-hawk divide, a principle that the state has standardized while dealing with the erstwhile Hurriyat. Special reports were planted against some of the capitalist trade unionists in media and the institution of judiciary was knocked at – both indirectly.

It was a threat of dismissal (government actually compiled a list of 72 employees) that changed the situation. Though there was division in the government over the dismissals but that did not prevent authorities from using it. In fact, Jammu divisional commissioner went public with the idea. “When it came to property investigations, one of them literally fell flat and was desperate to end the strike at least five days earlier,” informed a player in the dispute management.

Interestingly, misinterpretation of an order by media – apparently leaked to reap its benefits, helped better. GAD was carrying out a survey about the employees falling in different age-groups. After a small pilot survey was over, it sought more details from Finance department that issued a circular. Contents were correct but intensions were different!

There are 17 states in India where employees retire at 60, in two states it is for class-IV only. In 10 states they retire at 58. Punjab jumped to 59 but came back to 58 within 24 hours. In Kerela they retire at 55 and in Nagland they retire at 60 or after putting in 35 years of service, whichever is earlier? It was a survey for Nagaland model that was being carried out and the newspapers suggested that it is being implemented. “But it is a fact that government was considering alternative recruitments and involving security forces to run special services,” a senior officer admitted. These trade unionists who have never been in their offices, were not capable of fighting on multiple fronts.

A cabinet committee was set up to deal with the issue but all its meetings conveyed employees the authority that the government was showing, everytime a cap dropped. As frustration increased, the government unveiled its softer face over a cup of tea in a Gandhi Nagar mansion where no promises were made and no bargains discussed. Breakthrough in this informal meeting helped government to prove a point indirectly that it has been desperate to prove throughout that “youngsters are more accommodative and understanding than the elders.” After the tea was over, three cameras drove and intercepted chief minister. He reiterated the appeal and crisis was over. “There is no promise that the arrears will come in three months, the chief minister only spoke about giving a roadmap of how it will be done,” said a senior NC leader, adding “It was active persuasion and limited coercion.”

When the crisis was over, informed a frontline NC leader, “even Delhi was surprised”. He said the principal opposition PDP had sent feelers to Delhi that “system had collapsed” and that this government can not run and there is no way out. “They had almost the same input from the (intelligence) agencies,” he said, “but when the crisis was over they actually could not believe it for a moment.”

There was another reason as well. In the last few weeks before durbar moves (either way) secretariat employees go for a “harvest”. “This is a substantial sum select desks get from other employees in lieu of keeping track of their files and this was getting waste if strike continued,” said a former minister. Perhaps this could have been the reason why secretariat decided to resume routine first and all others followed.

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