Auto-rickshaws have become the battleground for a bitter political fight between Delhi Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit and the Aam Aadmi Party, which has – in keeping with its trademark swadeshi and proletariat style of campaigning – been using a large number of them for carrying its advertisements on their rear.

The fight, coming ahead of the Delhi Assembly elections scheduled later this year, took a nasty turn earlier this past week, when Ms. Dikshit’s political secretary wrote to AAP leader Arvind Kejriwal urging him not to denigrate a woman Chief Minister through the ads on autos. The AAP leader shot back and asked the CM to speak for herself.

Commenting on the issue, AAP spokesperson Aswasthi Muralidharan said there is nothing defamatory or anything factually wrong in the advertisements put up by the AAP on autos. The ads, part of the political strategy chalked out by the AAP, targeted Ms. Dikshit for the alleged corruption cases relating to the Commonwealth Games and water and power issues, and compare her with Kejriwal – a “crusader” who left his job to fight corruption, argued Mr. Aswasthi.

It all started with a Delhi Government directive banning ads on three-wheelers which also saw some autos, with the AAP ads, being fined. AAP volunteers said the move was essentially aimed at targeting the autos with party ads. So some auto drivers approached the Delhi High Court and sought a stay on the ban, arguing that the government move was an “unreasonable” restriction on constitutional right to livelihood and freedom of speech. They said the ban was “discriminatory” as there was no such rule for radio taxis, which flaunt a lot of ads on their exteriors.

Through the ban, the Delhi Government attempted to muzzle the voice of the marginalised lot, which wanted to assert their political choices in whatever way they could and change the “corrupt” political system, said Rajesh Agarwal, the man behind the move to approach the High Court, who is also associated with the AAP.

Mr. Agarwal, who worked on rights of auto drivers through NGO ‘Nyay Bhoomi’, said last week over 10,000 more autos volunteered to carry AAP ads – thus leading to party messages finding a place on every seventh auto plying on the roads.

Political observers insist that the Chief Minister, who is looking for a record fourth term in office while fighting anti-incumbency, does not want the autos, which are the most visible face of transport on the roads, to be an agency for her criticism.

Rajender Soni, a leader from the Bharatiya Private Transport Mazdoor Sangh, however, has a different take on the issue. He talks about the war between Delhi CM and Mr. Kejriwal in the context of “forced politicisation” of a transport entity like auto-rickshaw.

Rejecting the claim of the AAP that auto drivers are volunteering to carry its messages, he claimed they are being forced to carry ads, an allegation strongly denied by the party. Nevertheless the bitter battle over auto ads has proved that all parties believe that they do impact the populace and could even have a bearing on the outcome of the upcoming polls.


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