The past couple of years have seen the hegemony of auto and taxi union leaders Sharad Rao and Anthony Quadros being challenged by Thampi Kurien and DA Salian.
These two may not be as strong as Rao and Quadros,but are quietly on the rise. They have a fresh perspective. Instead of agitating,they resolving issues through discussions. They are also said to be technically sound.
Rao called a strike despite the government agreeing to a Re-1 hike in fares and appointing a one-man committee to reconsider the fare calculation formula.
Kuriens and other unions did not join the agitation but welcomed the committee.
Kurien and Salian also helped the government convert taxis and auto meters from mechanical to electronic,whereas Rao challenged the state decision in High Court saying infrastructure in the city did not support e-meters.
They were the chosen union representatives on a committee formed by the transport commissioner last year to oversee conversion of fare meters from mechanical to electronic.
In case of taxis,I have been told Salian understands the technical aspects better. In case of autos,I have experienced that whenever there is a problem,Kurien comes to me and tries to sort it out, said a senior transport official.
While this change has been relatively well-received by Quadros,who has for years shared an affable relationship with Salian,auto unions are divided.
Rao likes to hog the limelight by calling agitations left,right and centre,getting media coverage. He finally withdraws the strikes saying deputy CM Ajit Pawar has promised his demands will be met. He wastes time of the police machinery,traffic and government officials,and threatens commuters, said Kurien,who was an auto driver before becoming a union leader in 1983.
He said a dialogue with officials such as the transport commissioner and transport secretary is more fruitful than agitations.
That (Raos) union has no knowledge of autos,basic things such as weight,how much fuel is used at what speed.
Ironically,Kurien was a founder-member of Raos Mumbai Autorickshawmen Union and once revered the NCP leader.
I used to smoke but never before dada (Rao). I used to take his son Shashank out for walks. Now,we dont even talk, Kurien said.
He and a few others split to form their own union in January 2011 when Rao tried to prop Shashank superseding many seniors.
Shashank said,A lot of unions keep emerging,but that doesnt bother us because we have the largest following of 69,000 autos. We call agitations to voice drivers problems. I dont remember Kurien calling a single agitation.
He said Kurien was suspended after he attacked a fellow member two years ago.
Mumbai Taxi Association,led by Salian,has been there since 1928. Quadros father was one of its leaders in the 1950s. Quadros Mumbai Taximen Association was born in 1960.
Salian entered the space about 10 years ago. An increasing number of taxi drivers trusts us. Quadros union is also good and co-operative,but I think the main reason drivers have faith in us is because his union has political leanings as its president,Husain Dalwai,is from Congress, he said.
Quadros,however,insisted his organisation is independent. I have never been threatened by the presence of another union, he said.