New Delhi: Guess who the real drivers of the Aam Aadmi Party’s campaign in the Delhi elections are? Is it volunteers from all over the country and the city? No, it’s still the auto-rickshaw wallahs of the capital – the original aam aadmi and support base of AAP chief Arvind Kejriwal.
“We’re determined to give full support to the AAP. We have daily meetings of auto-drivers. There are many who come to the station with passengers. We convince them to vote for the party. We tell them why they should choose the AAP over the BJP and the Congress,” Ram Prakash Kushwaha, a resident of Hazaribagh, who drives an autorickshaw in Delhi, said.
The daily meetings take place outside the parking zone of Hazrat Nizamuddin railway station.
In the previous assembly election they were with the AAP, but they limited their roles to displaying the poster of the party on their vehicles. This time they are more directly involved.
Apart from holding meetings in small groups outside railway stations or metro stations, they are trying to garner support in the localities they are living in. Many are even taking some time out of their schedule to participate in AAP rallies.
“AAP is the only option. No other party will take us out of our plight. It was the Congress government that introduced the draconian section 66/192A under which our autos are taken in police custody and we have to pay a heavy fine for frivolous reasons such as parking by the roadside to pick up a passenger. Whatever we earn in a month, we lost at one go,” said Santosh Kumar, who is originally from Bihar and operates from south-east Delhi.
Under section 66/192A, the traffic police has the right to impound auto-rickshaws and slaps challans ranging from Rs 5000 to Rs 7000 in courts. “This was completely stopped when Arvind Kejriwal was CM. No one dared to issue challans and penalize us. But after the AAP quit, no one is there to listen to us,” he lamented.
There are 80,000 auto-rickshaws and 10,000 taxis in Delhi. Kejriwal had climbed the popularity chart riding on the shoulders of the same class as more than 70 percent of the capital’s auto-rickshaws had willingly allowed AAP’s posters to be pasted on their vehicles in 2013.
Taxi drivers at railways stations claim that they have to pay Rs 5,000 to Rs 10,000 as bribe to railway police, Delhi police and railway staff, to be able to get passengers.
“Besides, if one needs a fresh license, he has to pay Rs 20,000 to a tout, whereas, the normal fee is Rs 500. We know if AAP comes to power, this will stop and bring relief to passengers as well. It was Kejriwal who ensured free water for us, as it was hoarded and sold to the poor by some private people here,” Shankar Kumar Patel from Gorakhpur, who lives in Sangam Vihar, said.
Sangam Vihar, Asia’s largest unauthorized colony, has a large number of auto-rickshaw and taxi drivers, who are mobilizing the residents in favour of AAP through mohalla-sabhas and rallies.
Aveek Sengupta, a marketing executive and a frequent traveller said, “I witnessed a big change during AAP’s short tenure. Availability of autos and taxis in railway stations’ pre-paid booths got streamlined and there used to be police on duty to ensure discipline, which is now missing as always in Delhi.”
“AAP is the best option and it should come with a majority in Delhi so that the promises it has made could be fulfilled. The people like us who are living in Najafgarh and Delhi Cantt areas on rent had benefitted during AAP’s 49-day tenure. We organized three meetings at Ajmeri Gate and asked of auto-rickshaw drivers to vote AAP,” said auto-driver Ashok Kumar Tiwari, who hails from Balia in UP and lives at Nazafgarh.
Unlike other segments of the society, the auto and taxi drivers are candid in expressing their decision. They all will vote for AAP, come what may.