So, it came to pass that Uddhav Thackeray flexed his muscles and spoke harsh words against his party Shiv Sena’s ally of 25 years, the BJP, for most of the last fortnight before he sobered down. The two parties together pose the most serious challenge in years to the Congress- Nationalist Congress Party government, a cynical alliance of convenience. These two parties too are locked in a bitter struggle of oneupmanship as we head into the state Assembly election.
With three weeks left for us to cast our votes, we should have heard about their plans f or t he city and the state, we should have been armed with sufficient information about competing visions of development, we should have known where each party — or alliance — stands on a range of issues. The debate ought to have been centred on major issues. Instead, in the political climate we live in, flexing of muscles and hard negotiations between political leaders over seats claims large chunks of our mind space — and news space.
At one point in his public pronouncements, Thackeray declared that he wanted power, not for himself, but “to give something to Maharashtra”. Fair enough. But what would he want to give the state? What has he — or the Sena which has been in power in the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation for more than 25 years — given to Mumbai? Let us not be surprised if civic issues turn into electoral issues for the assembly election. Voters complained of stockpiles of garbage to candidates contesting for the Lok Sabha in April this year.
His bête noire, Raj Thackeray of the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena, who had stunned people with more than 20% of the votes in Mumbai in the 2009 Assembly election, wants to apparently unleash an election campaign around the theme, “Yes, it’s possible” to create a developed state. But we knew that all along, didn’t we?
For a start, Raj Thackeray could tell us what difference his 13 MLAs — six of them from the city — made to issues that deeply concern the daily lives of citizens here. We know what came — or did not come — of his high-pitched agitation against road toll.
Citizens know what’s possible, what we do not fathom is why politicians in power do not realise their promises and why their colleagues in the opposition do not make a big enough fuss about it. The Congress had the largest mandate among all parties from Mumbai. Its report card is hardly impressive; its state and city chiefs even less so. The NCP has neither much of a presence nor plans for the city; its focus is on multi-crore irrigation projects and land deals elsewhere in the state. The Pawars could not be less concerned. The BJP wants power. Period.
Between now and October 15, should political parties decide to focus on issues, there are plenty around in the city itself: lack of affordable housing would rank high up for a large majority of Mumbaiites; better connectivity through inexpensive public transport across new and old parts of the city, and a far better quality of roads than the existing ones; access to healthcare and high-quality education; safety and security for all; an ecologically sound and environmental balanced city; open spaces, leisure and fun districts that are accessible to all. Pretty basic stuff, actually. With these, we would like accountability and responsiveness in those who govern us.
Parties, or al l i ances as the case may be, will release manifestos. They are brought out more because parties must tick off the boxes required by the Election Commission, and less to persuade or convince voters of a vision. Yet, however blinkered these visions might be, they are put out and must be discussed. It’s a shame that between charting out best route to grab power and deny it to the rivals, parties cannot be bothered about debating issues.
So far, 11 days after this election was announced, all the parties are still talking to each another, not to us who might want to vote.