BENGALURU: Karnataka politicians are leaving no stones unturned to win the upcoming assembly elections. The latest stunt the leaders pull of now are auto rides. BJP State President and former CM B S Yeddyurappa took a ride in a rickshaw from his residence in Dollar’s Colony earlier this week, along with MP of Bengaluru Central P C Mohan and former Minister Katta Subramanya Naidu, to Jasma Bhavan where the party had organised an interaction between the leaders and drivers.
With Assembly elections just few weeks away, various leaders like him have been meeting and promising goodies to auto drivers and their families. This voter base is quite large, and can decide victory and defeat of candidates.
In Karnataka, there are over five lakh autorickshaw drivers, including the 1.25 lakh in Bengaluru. This could translate to roughly 20 lakh votes, when family members are included.
There are many autorickshaw unions associated with political parties. Drivers who are not part of any union keep changing loyalties and various parties hope to win their ballot.
Manjunath is President of Adarsha Autorickshaw Drivers Union, which has 16,000 members in Bengaluru alone. They are planning to switch their party affiliations — from JDS to BJP this time.
“In a couple of days, we will start surveying various unorganised auto stands, to know the drivers and their voting family members,” he says, adding that the count will be made using the EPIC numbers, which Election Commission issues.
Netas promise welfare board and power
In a recent meet, Yeddyurappa assured that a welfare board would be formed for autorickshaw drivers within 24 hours of his party coming to power. The chairman of this board will be picked from among them. He also assured the listeners that they would develop a separate apartment colony for autodrivers. BJP takes credit for having reduced the permit fee from `40,000 to `500, when Yeddyurappa was the chief minister.
JD (S) leaders have made promises too. Recently, former chief minister and JD(S) state president HD Kumaraswamy said he would make the drivers Members of Legislative Council and take them to Vidhana Soudha. He assured a separate app-based service for auto drivers in Bengaluru, similar to Ola and Uber.
JDS boasts of having introduced accident insurance of `50,000 when H D Deve Gowda was the CM. The party also boasts of having paid down payment for autorickshaws when Kumaraswamy was the CM.
A senior Congress leader, on condition of anonymity, said their party will be organising an event for the drivers too. He is confident that his party has a larger support base among them: “Siddaramiah’s government has started many schemes like Anna Bhagya, which would have benefited the fraternity.”
Drivers who have entered fray
Ironically, none of the major parties have given an auto driver a ticket to contest. Sampath, who belongs to an auto drivers’ union, had contested the BBMP election as an independent in 2015. “Every election, the parties use us. They need us for publicity. But, once they come to power, they don’t spare a look for us,” he rued. Auto driver Ayub Khan is contesting from Shivajinagar constituency, with an AAP ticket. “We are not organising big events like the others,” he says, claiming that around 12 smaller associations support him.