Veteran union leader blunted Sena-backed bandh in Mumbai

Despite Shiv Sena lending support, the two-day nationwide trade bandh had little impact in the commercial capital. The reason was Hind Mazdoor Sabha (HMS), the largest transport services union led by veteran Sharad Rao, decided at the last minute to stay away.

Rao (64), who contested the 2009 assembly election on an NCP ticket from Goregaon, ensured Sena participation in the strike meant nothing. Sena, however, dismissed the Rao factor.

Suhas Samant, who leads the BEST union of the party, said: "Several unions have lost strength due to reduction in the organised labour sector. Not a single union can claim to bring the city to a halt. They are trying to politicise the issue." Rao, who has switched between Sena, NCP and Shetkari Sanghatana of Sharad Joshi, said: "The Sena morcha could not attract more than 5,000, which indicates its failing control over trade unions."

His son Shashank Rao said: "We did not like the fact that Shiv Sena was using labour unions for political gain. We did not strike as we wanted to show Sena alone has no might in the city...We control auto-rickshaws and BEST and BMC employees."

The PM forming a committee of senior officials gave HMS an opportunity to withdraw from the bandh. Warnings during a strike in 2012 that the state may apply the stringent Essential Services Maintenance Act may have weighed on Rao's mind. "It (poor response to bandh call) shows Sena has lost faith of trade unions," said Congress spokesperson Sachin Sawant.

A day before the strike, Sena president Uddhav Thackeray called for active participation, but said the HSC examination shouldn't be affected. Sena unions, hence, participated mostly on February 20, a day before the exam started.

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