The slap on Arvind Kejriwal’s face on April 8 is the result of Aam Admi Party (AAP) abandoning its first solid support base of auto-rickshaw drivers. Kejriwal rode on the shoulders of auto-wallahs to succeed in Delhi Assembly elections. They were his most solid and visible supporters as they campaigned for him with broomstick-banners on back of their autos, but AAP’s rallies for the general elections have witnessed fleets of limousines instead.
The auto-rickshaw driver’s public display of anger against Kejriwal seems to suggest so. After all, they feel dumped as Kejriwal promised them the moon but quit as Delhi’s Chief Minister even before trying to keep any of his promises to them.
Though Kejriwal, in his inimitable manner, has alleged it to be a ‘political conspiracy’, the auto-wallahs have stated it to be an outburst of frustration and anger towards Kejriwal and AAP. The accused driver Lalli who recently slapped Kejriwal, is a resident of Nalanda district in Bihar, told reporters in the police station that his action was not politically motivated and was a result of deep-rooted frustration, when he found Kejriwal deserting them, without fulfilling a single promise he had made.
Unlike many of his comrades, the auto-rickshaw drivers supported Kejriwal and his movement, not to procure seats in Assembly polls, but considering him as a ‘true honest aam aadmi politician’ who would fight for their cause. Without asking for any monetary benefit in lieu of putting AAP banners on their autos, nearly 75-80 per cent of nearly 80,000 auto-rickshaws across Delhi supported AAP, hoping that once Kejriwal became the Chief Minister, he would put an end to the ordeal that they faced regularly.
“No promise has been fulfilled after Kejriwal became CM and he quit after 49 days to contest the Lok Sabha election eyeing for the post of Prime Minister, which is a breach of trust. He didn’t even bother to take care of our biggest problem of harassment we face from traffic police,” says auto-rickshaw driver Shyam Singh of Sangam Vihar.
Prior to Delhi Assembly election, Kejriwal promised the auto-wallahs that once his party comes to power, he would put an end to the draconian Section 66/192A, under which the traffic police impound auto-rickshaws and forced them to pay challans at courts. “Under this section, a traffic police impounds an auto-rickshaw on flimsy grounds and only after paying challan in a court, which ranges between Rs 5,000 to 10,000, the vehicle is released. In addition, one has to bribe the traffic police and during the entire process one ends up losing a week’s earnings or more,” alleges Sunil Kumar Yadav, an auto-rickshaw driver hailing from Champaran, Bihar.
AAP also promised that they would construct nearly 4,000 auto-rickshaw stands, issue permit to Delhi auto-rickshaw drivers to ply in the National Capital Region, facilitate bank loans to buy autos, increase number of auto-rickshaws on roads to generate employment, etc.
“Kejriwal made big promises to poor auto-wallahs and they all supported him, but once he came to power, he forgot about them. He didn’t take any step to improve the condition of auto-rickshaw drivers and service to passengers. What’s the difference between Kejriwal and any other politician whom he criticises,” questions Rakesh Agarwal, secretary, Nyaya Bhoomi, an NGO working for the cause of auto-wallahs.
Let us not forget that Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi didn’t become a Mahatma overnight by just doing theatrics and giving statements to newspapers that opponents may even take his life, as Kejriwal has insinuated after the recent spate of attacks.
(The writer is a Delhi based journalist, who writes on various national issues and specialises on Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh)