Irecently came across a remarkably illuminating conversation on politics between Vijay Tendulkar, modern India’s pre-eminent playwright, and Vasantrao Naik, Maharashtra’s chief minister from the late 1960s and early 70s, part of an excerpt from Tendulkar’s book Hey Sarva Kothun Yete (Where does all this come from) published by the Marathi daily Loksatta last Sunday.
Tendulkar was meeting Naik for a biographical project he was working on, and in the midst of an interview, where he probed him on his political philosophy and policy-making, he asked the then CM about urban decline.
“I feel it’s all right if we neglect urban areas for some time. You people in the cities have got a lot. Do you know how bad things are in the rural parts?” Naik said, going on to list the basics rural folk didn’t have. Tendulkar responded that city-dwellers, too, were human, and most of them weren’t rich either. “But they’re pampered,” Naik retorted. Then came a dead giveaway. “And one more thing. No matter how much noise all of you in the cities make, you can’t do us any harm. It’s not your votes that get us elected. Your urban newspapers criticise us, but our rural voter doesn’t read them. We’re concerned about how things are between him (the rural citizen) and us… He knows our language; we know his. The Congress is criticised so much in the cities, but doesn’t it get a majority at every poll? The focus of my own campaign is outside Mumbai and Pune.”
The number of seats in urban areas may have gone up after the recent redrawing of political constituencies, but our rulers continue to view Mumbai in much the same way that Naik and his successors did — as a cash cow, its wealth and land worthy of control and capture, its troubles worthy of dismissal as insubstantial.
Some people said the city would get its due once one of its own became CM, but when that happened in 1995, the year in which the Shiv Sena-BJP combine came to power, the experience wasn’t any different. Congress and NCP leaders who have their roots in the city haven’t exactly showered it with affection either.
Now the BJP wants a minister for Mumbai, someone who’s empowered to take major decisions for the
Firstly, investing too much power in an individual is dangerous. Second, what Mumbai needs is not yet another authority. The multiplicity of authorities is, in fact, a problem; it has allowed them to shift blame. A minister will not strengthen institutional mechanisms but will add another layer to an already cumbersome political and bureaucratic apparatus.
Third, Mumbai isn’t asking for preferential treatment but careful attention. If you create a minister for Mumbai, how do you stall demands for the creation of similar authorities for cities such as Pune, Thane, Nashik, Nagpur and Aurangabad? Fourth, every district in Maharashtra already has a guardian minister (Mumbai has two — one for the island city and the other for the suburbs) who plans allocation of funds. So it’s not a shortage of systems that has blocked progress.
There is a lobby, chiefly consisting of those who have enormous financial clout and are upset that political power is in somebody else’s hands, that argues that divorcing Mumbai from Maharashtra would help.
The BJP is playing into the hands of this lobby by pushing its new demand, but the idea of an indepen-dent city-state is deeply problematic. Mumbai’s social, economic and cultural link with the rest of the state is inextricable, and it depends on the state for water, power, food grains, just about everything.
Besides, there are political sensibilities involved. 105 people laid down their lives in order to
ensure that Mumbai stayed very much a part of Maharashtra. Repercussions of a move that disregards this would be serious.
Having a directly elected mayor who has certain powers is perhaps the one thing that might truly help, but other than that, we can do without grandiose-sounding authorities or new political arrangements — the only thing Mumbai wants is politicians, bureaucrats and citizens who care for it enough.