Chaos prevailed outside NCP chief Sharad Pawar’s residence on Friday afternoon as over a hundred striking workers of the Maharashtra State Road Transport Corporation (MSRTC) staged angry protests, accusing the veteran leader of not doing anything to help them.
Police seemed to have been taken by surprise as protesters gathered outside ‘Silver Oak’, Pawar’s residence on Pedder Road in south Mumbai, around 3 pm.
Employees of the state transport body, which has over 90,000 persons on its payroll, are on strike since November 2021. While Pawar’s party is part of the ruling coalition in Maharashtra, the transport portfolio is held by the Shiv Sena’s Anil Parab.
Pawar’s daughter and Lok Sabha member Supriya Sule tried to place the protesters outside the house, saying she was ready to talk to them but she must ensure first that her parents who were inside were safe.
Police later rounded up many of the protesters and took them away, while additional force was deployed outside the house.
Among the main demands of the striking MSRTC workers are that they be treated on par with state government employees and the cash-strapped corporation be merged with the government.
The protest came a day after the Bombay High Court asked the workers to resume duty by April 22. Following the court order, Transport Minister Parab had assured that no action would be taken against the workers who join duty by the deadline set by the HC.
But on Friday afternoon, a group of MSRTC employees reached Pawar’s residence and started shouting slogans against the former Union minister.
Some protesters were also seen hurling footwear towards the house.
“Some 120 employees of MSRTC have died by suicide since the strike began. These are not suicides but murders, caused by the state’s policy…. Sharad Pawar has not done anything to resolve the issue,” a protester told reporters.
“We respect yesterday’s decision of the Bombay High Court, but we were discussing the issues with the state government which has been elected by the people. This government did nothing for us. The Chanakya of this government, Sharad Pawar, is also responsible for our losses,” said another protesting worker.
Pleading with the protesters, Sule said, “I am ready to hold talks with you. Kindly cooperate…My father, mother and daughter are inside the house. I am ready to hold talks with you. Let me ensure their safety first and I will continue talking with the protesters.”
Joint Commissioner of Police (Law and Order) Vishwas Nangre-Patil also reached the spot as more police force was deployed.
Maharashtra Home Minister Dilip Walse-Patil, who belongs to the NCP, said the workers should not have taken law into their own hands.
“The undesirable turn which the protest has taken is not good. The agitation outside NCP chief Sharad Pawar’s residence in Mumbai was unnecessary,” he tweeted in Marathi.
It was “well known” who was inciting the agitators, he said without naming anyone, while also stating that the state government was open to holding dialogue with the agitators.
BJP leader Pravin Darekar said the Shiv Sena-NCP-Congress government in the state was “flint-hearted.”
“Over 100 MSRTC employees have lost their lives, but the state government was never serious about breaking the deadlock. Ministers Anil Parab and Ajit Pawar warned of disciplinary action against employees several times. It was this arrogance that the employees have not forgotten,” he said.
Sadabhau Khot, another state BJP legislator, said, “There was a workers’ union in MSRTC which was affiliated to the NCP. This union cheated other employees. Pawar had given assurance to MSRTC employees that he would merge the corporation with the state government. The manifesto of the NCP for the 2019 assembly polls clearly promised merger of the corporation with the state government.”
State Social Justice Minister Dhananjay Munde alleged that this was a “pre-planned agitation targeted at Sharad Pawar.”