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From indefinite strike to one-day chaos

mumbai Updated: Apr 16, 2012 01:14 IST
HT Correspondent
HT Correspondent
Hindustan Times
Maharashtra Navnirman Sena

You will face trouble on Monday, if you are in the suburbs and you need to step out. But it won't be as bad as it previously has been because the auto strike is not expected to be absolute - of the approximately 1.05 lakh autos that run in Mumbai, around 35,000 autos are expected to ply.

So promise other auto unions in the city, including those affiliated to the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena and the Shiv Sena, which are not supporting the strike; they make up for 35,000 autos.

The BEST is also ready to offer additional services on Monday, if needed. NA Walwalkar, public relations officer, BEST, said: "Depending on the flow of passengers, our depot managers will decide about supplying more services."

A veteran trade union leader for more than 40 years, Sharad Rao, the leader of the city's largest auto union, seems to be slowly losing his influence and control over auto drivers, so much so that on Sunday he had to withdraw his call for an indefinite strike and settle for a token one-day strike.

Insiders said one reason the NCP leader Rao's decisions are no longer all-embracing is that auto drivers and owners are changing their affiliations to unions supported by the MNS and the Sena. And Rao made the mistake of criticising the other unions and Raj Thackeray.

While he called the MNS chief "an agent of the rich" as his union was against the strike, he challenged the other unions, including the Sena's Mumbai Rickshaw Chalak-Malak Sena, saying that they don't have any support.

"Criticising the other unions has gone against Rao. Instead of supporting him, they have started opposing him," said an auto union leader, on condition of anonymity. "His decision to go ahead with the strike after the government okayed a Re 1 minimum fare hike [from Rs 11 to Rs 12] and also set up a new auto trade committee to review the fare formula has cost him dearly." The revised tariff will come into effect from April 20.

Haji Arafat Sheikh, president of Vahatuk Sena, affiliated to the MNS, said: "The strike is unnecessary as the state government has already formed committee to look into the demands of the auto unions. Our members will ply autos to ensure that citizens don't face inconvenience. We will post our functionaries at auto stands so that they are not threatened by others."

Another big blow to Rao has been the defection of his one-time aide Thampy Kurian, who now leads the Mumbai Rickshawmens' Union. Since Thampy left him, Rao has lost control over half the auto trade. Kurian had opposed Rao's call for an indefinite strike right from the start. "It is a big loss to Rao. Now, only Shankar Salvi, who is with Rao, has an understanding of the auto trade," an RTO official said, requesting anonymity as he is not authorised to speak to the media.

Rao has also lost his appeal after he joined politics, said some union leaders.

The leader has also lost his tight grip on the BEST and the BMC through his unions, thanks to the tough stance taken by former BEST managing director Uttam Khobragade and civic chief Subodh Kumar.

Rao has been involved with trade unions since 1967, starting his career with George Fernandes' Bombay Mazdoor Union and quickly rising to become his right-hand man. After Fernandes entered national politics in the 1970s, Rao took charge of the union.