New Delhi: On 21 January, Arvind Kejriwal was allotted token No. 45 in the queue at Jamnagar House in Lutyens’ Delhi, and had to wait for over six hours to appear before the returning officer and file his nomination papers for the 8 February assembly polls.
The person ahead of him in the queue, with token No. 44, was a taxi driver named Pawan Kumar, who had an axe to grind.
“This government hasn’t bothered to pay attention to the hurdles faced by the taxi-drivers. Autorickshaw fares were revised, but there was no scheme for taxi drivers. This was the best way I could raise my voice and hope to be heard,” Pawan, from Filmistan near Karol Bagh, told ThePrint. He was disappointed to find out the next day that his nomination papers had been rejected.
Many black and yellow taxi drivers like Pawan echo this view. They say the Aam Aadmi Party government has failed to protect their interests in the face of increasing competition from the rise of taxi aggregators Ola and Uber. They also seem to resent the bonhomie between autorickshaw drivers and the AAP, which has existed pretty much since the party was founded in 2013.
The auto drivers, meanwhile, have remained firmly in Kejriwal’s corner, putting up messages like ‘I love Kejriwal’ and ‘Kejriwal mera hero, bijli bill mera zero’ on their vehicles. But not all is well in their world either — whether it is the Delhi government’s ‘free bus rides for women’ scheme, alleged “witch-hunting” by the Delhi Traffic Police, or other grievances.
But when it comes to the polls, be it auto drivers, Ola/Uber cabbies or even black and yellow taxi drivers, there is a lot of support for Kejriwal and the AAP. Reason? Free electricity, free water, and “better” education for their children.
What Kejriwal govt did (and didn’t do) for cabbies
The Delhi government’s transport department had prepared a draft app-based cab policy in 2018, called ‘Licencing and Regulation of App-Based Cab Aggregators’ Rules, 2017’. The draft policy aimed to control the exponential growth in the number of such cabs, which has crossed 1.5 lakh, plus issues like licencing portals, parking, surge pricing, and a fare cap.
The draft policy was to be cleared by a high-powered committee of the Delhi government within a week, in September 2018. But it wasn’t cleared, leaving drivers of traditional ‘black and yellow’ taxis fuming.
Harjit Dev, a resident of Zamrudpur who drives a traditional taxi, said: “I don’t have an understanding of administrative politics. But the fact is that the policy still hasn’t come into force. Why should we care about a draft policy?”
On the positive side, Kejriwal’s Delhi government fully waived the fitness test fees and GPS-related charges for all taxis in the national capital. It also slashed charges of other documentation and penalties by 60-80 per cent for all cabs registered in Delhi, and the cost of buying a meter to Rs 6,000 from the earlier Rs 12,000. However, many drivers said this didn’t make too much of a difference to their lives.
Instead, the AAP government introduced the free bus ride scheme for women, which made people flock to buses instead of taking cabs from spots such as railway stations. Narender Kumar of Dilshad Garden said the daily number of passengers he picks up at the New Delhi Railway Station has fallen drastically.
“They take cabs only if they have a lot of luggage, otherwise, they prefer commuting by buses,” he said.
Auto drivers’ woes
The auto drivers also have their own tales of woe. In the run-up to these elections, many have emblazoned messages like ‘I love Kejriwal’ and ‘Kejriwal mera hero, bijli bill mera zero’ on their vehicles. But these messages have got them into trouble with the police, which has allegedly slapped heavy fines on them.
Auto drivers have approached the Delhi High Court against the traffic police’s alleged “witch-hunt” against them. Manoj, one of the petitioning drivers, told ThePrint: “I live near Jasola. I was standing there in the parking. The traffic police came and challaned me Rs 10,000 for the ‘I love Kejriwal’ message on my auto.”
This amount is almost a month’s earnings for some of these drivers.
Delhi Auto Rickshaw Sangh (DARS) chief Rajendra Saini added: “During the previous elections, we were unhappy with the Congress, and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) did not understand our problems. This led to our support for the AAP.”
But everything isn’t hunky-dory between the party and the auto drivers. Saini says the AAP hasn’t understood their problems, and that the free bus ride scheme for women is causing them harm too.
Some auto drivers still remember Sheila Dikshit’s 15-year Congress regime fondly, despite the fact that the scheme to give cabs to auto drivers never panned out.
Where cab and auto drivers agree
Taxi and auto drivers have very different issues, but they largely agree on three things — Ola/Uber cabs from outside Delhi should be banned; Narendra Modi should be Prime Minister of India; and Kejriwal should be Chief Minister of Delhi.
On the first issue, auto driver Urmilesh Yadav of Gorakhpur explained why they wanted cabs from outside Delhi banned within the National Capital Territory (NCT).
“Vehicles from outside Delhi don’t affect those who drive short distances, like from a Metro station to a particular locality,” he said. “But they kill business for those who work on long routes.” It would be a great relief, he added, if they are banned.
Meanwhile, the reason they want Kejriwal to return as CM is clear. Pradeep Saxena, a resident of Rani Bagh who has been a cab driver for 22 years in Delhi, his children’s education has made him realise the changing politics of the city. Initially a private taxi operator, Saxena has been registered with Uber for the last four years.
“I am most happy as I see my children’s perception towards studies and school has changed,” said Saxena, who has shifted his daughter from a private school to a Delhi government-run Sarvodaya Vidyalaya.
“She’s a student of Class 9 and tells me the teachers are very good. My two younger sons are in classes 3 and 4; I am planning to shift them too.”
In particular, Saxena was moved by his daughter coming home from school and talking about “the importance of being happy” in a subject being taught in school — referring to the Happiness Curriculum introduced by the AAP government in 2019.
Magan Singh, a 52-year-old who drives a ‘black and yellow’ taxi, added: “I have been driving a cab for the last 22 years and I’ve seen what each government has done but I think Kejriwal has brought about a transformation in our health and education sector.”
Singh said his grandchildren have started looking forward to attending school now, while he has been able to get his wife treated for free in the nearest mohalla clinic.
No takers for Tiwari
Despite the love for PM Modi across the board, there are no takers for Delhi BJP chief Manoj Tiwari as CM, even among drivers who are the party’s supporters, or those who hail from UP and Bihar — exactly the people former Bhojpuri superstar Tiwari is supposed to woo.
“Manoj Tiwari is not fit to rule,” said Ram Madhav, a middle-aged driver from Patna. “I have not lost my mind that I will vote for him. I will vote for Kejriwal.”