Telangana Chief Minister K Chandrashekar Rao on Thursday refused to take responsibility for the suicide of protestors during the transport workers’ union strike that began earlier this month, ANI reported. Two employees of the state transport body had killed themselves on October 13.

Rao said that the workers who committed suicide “are not my responsibility”. “They are responsible for themselves,” he said. “We did not ask them to protest. Unions provoked them.” Rao declared that the transport corporation would soon get dissolved, and the workers’ demand for the transport body to be merged with the government would not be accepted.

The chief minister criticised the union leaders for spearheading the strike, which he termed “illegal”, and said the future of the transport corporation would be decided in the next few days. “I don’t even need a cabinet meeting for it, I can just do it with a signature,” Rao said, according to Mint. “I will take a decision in the next five to six days with regard to giving private buses permits across the state to ease the situation. If the TSRTC [Telangana State Road Transport Corporation] works without any unions, they [employees] will also get bonus.”

On October 5, workers of the transport body had called a two-day strike with a list of 26 demands. However, the state government called the strike illegal, and gave a deadline to the protesting employees to get back to work or they would lose their jobs. A day later, Rao said those who had failed to resume work before the set deadline would not be taken back, which fuelled more protests as nearly 5,000 employees lost their jobs.

The transport body’s Joint Action Committee, which had organised one of the protests, said Rao’s comments were an attempt to insult the union leaders and weaken their unity. “The TSRTC is not anyone’s property,” the transport body’s Joint Action Committee convener Ashwathama Reddy told The New Indian Express. “He [KCR] can’t just say that he would shut it down.”

Another Joint Action Committee member, Thomas Reddy, reminded Rao and the residents of Telangana that it was the “strength and unity” of the transport body’s workers that helped it in times of crisis. Reddy added that they will travel across the state to gather support.

The leaders alleged that the chief minister had misrepresented facts on the funds given to the transport body, which was only Rs 712 crore and not Rs 4,550 crore as Rao claimed. They highlighted that it was the transport body that had been paying Rs 1,000 crore every year in taxes.

Meanwhile, Opposition leaders strongly opposed Rao’s remarks, with BJP’s Telangana spokesperson K Krishna Saagar Rao saying that it was “commercially impossible” for private bus operators to commute on unviable routes. “The RTC ticket prices for poor and needy passengers can never be matched by private operators,” he said, adding that the party condemned the chief minister’s threats.

A Congress spokesperson compared Rao to a dictator and said: “Just as blind do not see the end, an arrogant dictator also does not see the rationality in others’ arguments. So is the case with Rao.” He also demanded the government discuss the matter with the agitating employees.

However, All India Majlis-e-Ittehad-ul-Muslimeen President Asaduddin Owaisi was only the leader who backed Rao’s actions. He said the strike was not good for anyone and the protesting workers should understand the seriousness of the situation.

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