Mumbai BJP chief Mangal Prabhat Lodha Saturday felicitated a driver of ride-hailing app Uber for being an “alert citizen” and taking a passenger to a police station after he overheard a phone conversation about the anti-Citizenship (Amendment) Act protests.
Uber driver Rohit Singh had drove Jaipur poet-activist Bappadittya Sarkar to the Santacruz police station on February 5 night and accused him of “talking about burning the country”, identifying himself as a “communist”, and saying that “he will make the entire country a Shaheen Bagh”. A mass communication graduate from Fergusson College in Pune, Sarkar was questioned by police for over two hours before being “asked to go” as there was no cognizable offence. The cab aggregator, meanwhile, Friday temporarily blocked Singh’s account from the application.
On Saturday, Lodha along with local BJP workers presented a garland to Singh outside Santacruz police station. “He (Singh) did the duty of being an alert citizen. Uber did wrong by barring him from driving the cab,” Lodha said.
A native of Bhopal, Singh works as a part-time driver and is pursuing a career in acting. He claimed to have recently played a small role in an upcoming Hindi film. Referring to the February 5 incident, the 35-year-old driver told The Sunday Express, “I wish that artist (Sarkar) was behind bars for what he said.”
“On Wednesday, I received a booking from Juhu Silver beach on Bappadittya Sarkar’s name. That guy (Sarkar) entered (the cab) and was talking on the phone. He had a dafli (tambourine) with him. He was continuously talking about protests, which is fine. Everybody has a right to protest. But I panicked when he started saying, ‘desh me aag lagne wali hai (the country is going to burn)’. I got worried about what he planned to do,” Singh added.
Singh claimed that he had initially decided to drop Sarkar to his destination, but “later, I changed my mind. No conversation happened between us till I drove to Santacruz police station. The ride must be of 20-22 minutes”. On reaching Santacruz police station, he told Sarkar that he wanted to withdraw cash from a nearby ATM kiosk, but instead returned with police.
Singh, who has recorded his statement, has submitted an audio recording of 7-8 minutes with the police. “I wish I could record the bit where he (Sarkar) said ‘desh ko jala dege’,” he said.
After the news went viral, Singh said his father, who resides in Bhopal, had asked him to return fearing for his safety. Singh has been living in Mumbai for nearly 14 years, and had started working with Uber three years ago.
Singh claimed that the BJP’s Mumbai unit chief has assured him that Uber will remove the suspension soon. “Even if Uber does not allow me to drive, it is fine. I did what was right,” Singh claimed.
Meanwhile, Sarkar, who reached Mumbai on February 3 on an invitation to perform at Kala Ghoda festival, returned to Rajasthan on Friday. He said he has participated in several protests against the Citizenship (Amendment) Act.
On Wednesday, Sarkar said, he was talking to a friend over phone about people’s discomfort with “Lal Salam” (a salute or greeting used by communists), about anti-CAA-NRC protest sites Shaheen Bagh in Delhi and Nagpada in Mumbai and how they could be made better.
“I told the police to check the audio recording and listen if anything I said was anti-national. I told them they could arrest me if I did,” Sarkar said.
While police have not registered a case in the matter, an Uber spokesperson said an inquiry was going on in the matter.
On Friday, Uber temporarily blocked Singh’s account from the application and informed Sarkar, “Your safety is something we take seriously and we would not want to you to pay for the inconvenience caused…”
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