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Ahead of poll,cabbies face a hard choice

The city’s driving force,the cabbies,are finding it difficult to make up their minds on their choice of candidates this time around.

The city’s driving force,the cabbies,are finding it difficult to make up their minds on their choice of candidates this time around. These men who help the city to keep moving say they have been “pained” and have “suffered” two crucial issues in the last couple of years: the outsider versus Maharashtrian issue followed by violence and the ruling coalition’s failure to provide financial assistance to taxi owners for purchasing new vehicles after the government scrapped the 25-year-old Fiat Padminis.

With a majority of the two lakh cab drivers and owners being registered voters in the city,their resentment may well hurt the contesting candidates of parties like the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena,the Congress and the Nationalist Congress Party.

“They (taxi drivers) are unhappy with the government’s dilly-dallying on financial assistance for purchasing new cars. The scars of the MNS hate-campaign are also in their minds,” AL Quadros,general secretary of Mumbai Taximen’s Union,said. “Our union doesn’t indulge in political campaign for or against any party,it’s for the voter to decide,” he said

Meanwhile,Mushtaq Qureshi,president of City Taximen’s Union,said,“The MNS-issue has subsided a bit amongst the drivers as the government had snatched their bread and butter. Now,the cabbies with 15-year-old taxis are awaiting the government’s decision to scrap their vehicles. It’s like a sword hanging over their head.”

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Arvind Kumar Pandey,whose family members have been driving taxis in the city for the last five decades,had lost two taxies,one in the February 2008 violence and another to the scrapping decision. According to him,the MNS workers had damaged his vehicle. For him,his brother Pramod and father Rajendra,all taxi drivers,choosing the right candidate in the Mumbai South constituency is quite difficult.

The Pandeys,Arvind said,have been traditionally voting for the Congress Party. “One of our taxies was scrapped while another was damaged in the violence…I haven’t made up my mind on the candidates,let’s see,” he said.

However,the political parties are unfazed by the resent amongst the cabbies. Shirish Parkar,the MNS candidate in Mumbai North Lok Sabha constituency,doesn’t feel his party’s outsider versus Maharashtrian campaign will hurt his chances. “It is the media’s perception that the issue was a campaign against the north Indians. We simply wanted the people coming from other cities to respect the culture and traditions of this city and we stand by that cause,” Parker told Newsline.

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The Mumbai North constituency comprises a significant chunk of north Indian migrants,Marathis and Gujaratis. Parkar said,“I don’t think Sanjay Nirupam (his rival candidate) will gain any advantage by playing this card during his campaign…we’re not concerned about it.”

Meanwhile,Mumbai Congress chief Kripashankar Singh is positive that divisive politics played by the MNS will cost heavily to the party. “The MNS and the Shiv Sena have always targeted the north Indians and polls are the time when they can get back at them,” Singh said.

First published on: 12-04-2009 at 03:01:08 am
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