Bitter past returns to haunt AIADMK

Government employees in the state, who continue to be haunted by the repercussions of the 2003 strike, are hesitant to vote in the May 8 polls, fearing that they would be victimised by the government that comes to power, a top union official of an employees’ association said here.
Pointing to the “vindictive attitude” of the political parties, the union official said a fear psychosis prevails among government employees about taking part in the electoral process.

More than 3.5 lakh government employees are engaged in election duty, often in places far away from their hometowns. Till now, many of them have frittered away their votes.
“There are two reasons for this. One is that government employees have been deprived of their political rights. They feel that they have no reason to vote. Secondly, the postal ballot system is cumbersome and many feel that it lacks secrecy. There is feeling that the powers that be may come to know for whom the votes were cast,” said Mr. Muthu Sundaram, general secretary, Tamil Nadu Government Employees’ Association.
Over 1.76 lakh government employees were dismissed invoking an ESMA ordinance after a statewide strike in June-July, 2003. Hearing the case, the Supreme Court, while ruling that government employees had no right to strike, had ordered the state government to reinstate most of the striking employees.
“However, we lost our ability to collectively bargain for better pay or bonus. That was a turning point for us,” Mr. Sundaram said. Government employees’ unions are mandated by law to be neutral and cannot campaign for a political party, he added.
While such unions maintain neutrality, the statistics available on the 2004 Lok Sabha elections indicate that government employees in large numbers voted against the AIADMK. In many constituencies in which only 100 postal votes had been recorded in earlier elections, the number of votes shot up sharply to 6,000 postal ballots. Much of this was negative voting by government employees against the AIADMK, sources said.
Government employees, in spite of all reservations about the electoral process, continue to be keen about casting their votes during this election. “We have asked the Election Commission to make the process of casting postal ballots easier. We have been assured about the secrecy of our votes and we are keen to cast our ballots,” a high-level official of the TN Government Officials’ Union said. He said it would be easier for employees to vote if they were engaged in election duty close to their hometowns.
Asked about the perceived lack of interest among government employees to vote, he said, “We are conscious of our democratic duty and are keen to show a better voting record this time around.”
Mr. Sundaram called for a better understanding of democracy among government employees. He said he would urge members of his union to actively take part in the elections and fulfill their democratic duty.
Amidst all this, posters depicting the entire strike saga – right from its beginning in June 2, 2003 to the sops announced for government employees in the wake of the 2004 Lok Sabha election results – have been posted at the DMS Complex, Teynampet. The poster allegedly posted on behalf of the government employees recalls the harrowing chain of events and warns that the employees have not forgotten their past. There are also reports of pamphlets being distributed to government employees.

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