When Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) leader Arvind Kejriwal took up the cudgels on behalf of autorickshaw drivers at Jantar Mantar on Monday, many Delhiites were surprised at the affiliation of the tribe perceived as corrupt with a man propagating integrity and probity in public life.
Kejriwal had joined disgruntled autorickshaw drivers to protest the Delhi government’s move to ban putting up posters on the back of three-wheelers. But his association goes back to eight months.
It began on November 2, 2012 when Kejriwal spent over an hour listening to the problems of 200-odd autorickshaw drivers at Ambedkar Bhawan, Aram Bagh.
After listening to the endless tales of alleged harassment at the hands of the transport department and traffic cops, Kejriwal told them, “I agree with all the problems... But you have been mistreating customers. There will be no barqat (prosperity) unless you treat the customer as king.”
At that time, Kejriwal had recently launched the political outfit and had been reaching out to different groups. The group of auto drivers was mobilised by his old friend Rakesh Agarwal, of NGO Nyayabhoomi.
The auto drivers “are victims of a corrupt system,” Agarwal had claimed and said, “With no hope either from BJP or Congress, the auto drivers are looking forward to a change in the system.”
Kejriwal had addressed a rally of autorickshaw drivers at Ramlila Maidan on March 14 this year. “We had invited Congress’s JP Agrawal and BJP’s Vijay Goel but they did not turn up,” Agarwal said.
The auto drivers were later seen ‘helping out’ the AAP in March by ferrying about 10 lakh letters against inflated power and water bills to Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit’s residence.
Monday’s rally was a result of a recent order of the Delhi government due to which autorickshaw drivers were being challaned for putting up ‘posters’ on autos, the AAP claimed. The posters, with pictures of Kejriwal and Dikshit, asked people to choose between them.
“The government is feeling threatened and so calling these illegal. Can’t they see the illegal hoardings with Goel’s or Dikshit’s photos?” asked Kejriwal. The government is misusing the Motor Vehicle Act to ban such advertisements, he said.
Surendra Kumar, an auto driver who attended Monday’s rally, said, “This is my vehicle and I have willingly put up this poster. What is the government’s problem?”
Transport minister Ramakant Goswami said: “Advertisements are banned, not posters. They are misleading people. Also, three-wheeler permits do not allow advertisements.”