The first thing you notice when you reach the Lajpat Nagar Market is the multitude of cycle rickshaw pullers who make it easy to traverse the humongous market and also connect it to nearby metro stations, bus stops and auto stands. These rickshaw-wallas make life easy for residents of Delhi at all popular places, be it Connaught Place, Sarojini Nagar, Delhi University campus or INA Market. They are simply omnipresent.
According to conservative estimates, there are approximately six lakh cycle rickshaws plying on Delhi streets today. The Joint Commissioner of Traffic Police was, however, recently quoted as estimating this number at around 10 lakh. If such a large number of people were to vote in the upcoming elections in Delhi, their choice could change the very outcome of the elections as they would form roughly six per cent of the total number of voters. Needless to say, parties would have left no stone unturned to woo their voters. But that is not the case.
Madhu Purnima Kishwar, founder of Manushi that works extensively for the welfare of the city’s rickshaw pullers, believes that the primary reason for this is that most of them are seasonal migrants and hence not a vote bank in Delhi.
A majority of them come to the capital from Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, West Bengal and other States in search of a livelihood. “Hum Mathur mein register hain, vote dene ke liye” (I am a registered voter in Mathura), says Rakesh, who pulls a rickshaw in the Lajpat Nagar Market area and lives in Sriniwaspuri.
Consequently, a majority of rickshaw pullers don’t make any difference to the political scenario in Delhi in terms of being members of a vote bank as there doesn’t exist one. Nipen Das, a rickshaw puller from Bihar who intends on going back to his hometown in some months, says he does not have a voter ID card yet but his brother-in-law does. “Jijaji humare BJP ko vote denge” (My brother-in-law will vote for BJP), he adds.
But there appears to be more support for the Aam Aadmi Party. Javed, who has been living in Jal Vihar with eight other friends and pulling a rickshaw in Delhi since 1996, says all of them are tired of the current government’s attitude toward problems they face and are going to vote for the AAP.
The lack of solidarity in their opinion is easy to spot, though. Bhawan Singh, who came to Delhi from Bihar, says he has not given much thought to the question. “Abhi time hai, socha nahin hai kise vote karna hai,” (There is still time, I haven’t thought about who to vote for), he says. There are many others who share his point of view and think it is too early to make the decision. With the relatively insignificant percentage of voters that Delhi’s rickshaw-wallas make, it will be interesting to see what impact they have – both on the elections in terms of number of voters as also on the government’s attitude towards treatment of non-motorised public transport in the Capital.