As Mumbaiites struggled in the rain to catch public transport buses and trains with taxis and autorickshaws going on strike on Tuesday, politicians did what they do best — play politics.
But the official taxi and auto union leaders claimed that they went off the roads as their vehicles were vandalised.
“Many taxis were vandalised. That’s why the drivers stayed off the roads to protect their vehicles,” said Anthony Quadros, general secretary of the Mumbai Taximen’s Union.
“It was decided that a joint meeting would be held with the transport department on Tuesday. There was no reason to go on strike. But it was [Nitesh] Rane and his men from Swabhimaan who damaged taxis, autos and buses,” claimed Sharad Rao, Mumbai Automen’s Union leader.
Nitesh is the son of Revenue Minister Narayan Rane.
The Swabhimaan Taxi-Auto Union, Mumbai, was launched seven months ago by Swabhimaan Sanghatana, the outfit floated by Nitesh.
But A.K. Tiwari, president of the Swabhimaan Taxi-Auto Union, Mumbai, said they had the support of at least 24,000 taxi and rickshaw drivers.
“The allegation is being made by our opponents. We did not force anyone, they joined the strike on our own,” Tiwari told Hindustan Times.
Meanwhile, the Shiv Sena had its own take on the issue.
After the joint meeting of the transport department with the taxi and autorickshaw union leaders on Tuesday, the Sena taxi union leaders prevented Quadros from giving soundbytes to the media.
The transport department agreed to increase the minimum fare of autorickshaws from Rs 9 to Rs 11 with effect from Thursday, but were yet to take a decision for taxis. Sena union leaders claimed Quadros had failed to get the minimum fare hike for taxis and so he should not talk to the media.
When the mediapersons objected, the Sainiks got angry and a fight broke out outside the transport commissioner’s office at Bandra (East).
“Political parties are doing this just to take credit for the outcome of the meeting,” said a taxi union member, requesting anonymity.
While Nitesh was not available for comment, his public relations firm sent a text message saying: “The intention was not to bring Mumbai to a halt, but to make Mumbaikars aware of the woes of an integral community. Swabhimaan Sanghatana has received the support of auto and taxi drivers and they have full faith in us.”
Nitesh’s Swabhimaan Sanghatana was in the news earlier this year when it launched a campaign against the Shiv Sena-Bharatiya Janata Party-ruled municipal corporation over the issue of water shortage.
“It seems Rane’s son has run out of issues and this is the shortcut that he has taken,” said an autorickshaw union member, on condition of anonymity.