The general view is that Sharad Rao and his union go on strike again and again. How would you respond to this?
It is not correct. We don’t declare strikes without a legitimate reason. We called for one some months back, thanks to which the basic fare went up by Rs 2 to the present Rs 11. The price of all commodities is going up. The government is conspiring with the Shiv Sena and MNS to show us in bad light.
The government has accepted your demands, but you still want to go on strike. Why?
I am a big planner. The government has accepted our demand for a Re 1 hike as interim relief. It has agreed to calculate fares annually every May, after considering the budget announced in February every year. It has also appointed a committee that would study the issue in three months, and generate a separate formula for fares for 1.5 lakh CNG-based autos. This protest is not just about rickshaws in Mumbai, but also the 83 per cent of autos across the state that run on petrol.
How often do you use rickshaws to commute? Do you understand the problems that the common man is subjected to because of the strike?
I am the son of a BEST conductor, who started with a struggle. I have seen poverty at its worst. I was a hawker and sold firecrackers for 11 years, and it is not that I live a very luxurious life. If you are wondering how I am travelling in a private car, it is a gift from my union workers.
Then why is it that you declare strikes that cripple the daily life of the common man?
I’m not against people. I know that nearly 55 lakh citizens travel by rickshaws every day in Mumbai. But my aim is to sensitise people about the problems faced by auto drivers, who too are human beings. The cost of auto rickshaws has gone up, apart from prices of essential commodities. I don’t want the morale of drivers across the state to slacken.
When will this end? Will you stop going on strike if all your demands are met?
We don’t just go on strike for the sake of it. The government wants to create chinks in our unity, and stop a movement that took us a very long time to generate. Even if a few thousands of rickshaws are on the road, it doesn’t mean that the strike has flopped.