In a candid interview, Nationalist Congress Party chief Sharad Pawar spoke to Hindustan Times on why he is worried about Mumbai and wants to wrest control of the civic body from the Sena-BJP. Pawar also snubbed chief minister Prithviraj Chavan’s comment that Sena chief Bal Thackeray will become irrelevant, and deputy CM Ajit Pawar projecting himself as the chief ministerial candidate. Excerpts from the interview:
CM Chavan said you played a major role in forging the Cong-NCP alliance in Mumbai. Why did you insist on it when the NCP doesn’t stand to gain much?
I have been worried about the future of Mumbai. It is the financial capital, an economic powerhouse that earlier had the highest air traffic, high port traffic, and strong industrial and manufacturing sectors. Today, barring the services sector, we don’t boast of growth in any other sector. The face of city has changed but there has been no foresight in planning or infrastructure growth to meet the demands of the growing population by the Sena-BJP in the last 16 years. We have to change that. That’s the main reason our party settled for less seats in the alliance. It is essential to wrest BMC from the Sena-BJP.
What is your vision for Mumbai and urban areas?
We will primarily focus on affordable housing, water supply and transport infrastructure as these are critical for Mumbai. Infrastructure deficit is an issue in all urban areas. But we are also studying social composition in cities and I think there is a need to focus on senior citizens and women.
Will you contest solo in 2014?
In Zilla Parishad and municipal council elections, the Congress and NCP have been main competitors for the last 10 years. We want to contest the assembly elections in 2014 jointly. If there is some irrational demand from their side, I can’t say. From my side, till I am there, there will be no such demand.
Deputy CM Ajit Pawar has been positioning himself as the CM candidate for 2014 polls. Is that the official party line? We don’t have the numbers to talk of chief ministerial candidates. In 2014, as things stand today, we plan to contest elections jointly with the Congress. In that case, if they contest more seats [as was the case in the 2009 polls] they have chances of winning more seats because we contest less. So this is premature.
Do you agree with CM Chavan’s recent statement that the Thackerays will become irrelevant after these elections?
When it comes to senior Thackeray, I think age is against both of us. He is not as active in politics any more, but one has to agree that Thackeray continues to enjoy support from a segment of the society. Thackeray is an institution that cannot become irrelevant because of one election.
Do you think that the Sena is losing its clout?
Sena under the leadership of Uddhav Thackeray has failed. It is a party on the decline, and that decline started the day Maharashtra Navnirman Sena was formed. Its numbers will dwindle further in these elections. In 2009 elections, the party projected Uddhav as the CM candidate and they lost. He also does not have the charisma of his father and cannot inspire confidence among people that he will deliver on his promises.
Do you think the MNS will occupy Sena’s space?
Raj has a sort of charisma and a style that is reminiscent of senior Thackeray. He gives an impression of forcefulness that he’ll deliver on what he has promised. In the future, in absence of Thackeray, I feel he can carry that mantle forward. Sena sympathisers and loyalists will switch over to the MNS. But I don’t see the MNS adding a lot of seats in these polls.