After months of constant bickering, chief minister Devendra Fadnavis from the BJP and Shiv Sena chief Uddhav Thackeray showed great camaraderie at a civic event in Bhandup, fuelling speculations that the two warring allies are considering a tie-up for the crucial Mumbai civic polls.
While there were doubts over the party’s stand, Fadnavis and Thackeray put up a picture of unity as they inaugurated the Rs2,887-crore tunnel running between Gundavali in Thane and Bhandup water complex.
Thackeray requested Fadnavis to fast-track the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation’s (BMC) projects, which have been stuck at the state-government- or central-government-level, and Fadnavis promptly agreed for a review meeting. Both the leaders also spoke about their alliances’ emphasis on development and Mumbaiites’ faith in their 20-year partnership, months before the city goes to polls in February 2017. “The people of Mumbai will always support the alliance,” Thackeray said.
This was in sharp contrast to what has been happening in the past few days. Thackeray has been criticising the Centre’s demonetisation move and his party MPs even participated in protests organised by West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee. The BJP reacted bitterly to the friendly fire by its alliance partner. The two parties had forged an alliance for elections to 147 civic bodies governing small cities, but on the ground the alliance did not work in most cities because the party workers were not keen to work together. The BJP also got a boost earlier this week, when it climbed to the number one spot after the results of these civic polls were declared. However, a day later, the BJP maintained it was willing to work out an alliance with the Sena for the Mumbai civic polls.
Seated next to each other on a floor filled with Sena and BJP leaders, both Thackeray and Fadnavis were seen exchanging pleasantries. On Monday, too, the two leaders inaugurated the revamped disaster management department at the BMC headquarters.
Talking about the delay in BMC projects, Thackeray cited the Middle Vaitarna project, which he said was stuck because of pending approvals from the central government for 10 years. “Despite that, the BMC completed the project in three-and-a-half years. Yet, the public works department’s (under the state government) work of re-constructing a bridge delayed the project by another one-and-a-half years. I request the chief minister to call the mayor and municipal commissioner for a meeting and clear all the pending BMC projects. The BMC does not wait for praises, it has the wherewithal to develop the city.”
The BMC is working on big-ticket projects such as the Gargai, Pinjal dams, the Damanganga river interlinking project, the Goregaon-Mulund link road and the ambitious coastal road connecting the island city and the western suburbs, where it requires clearances from the state and the Centre.
Fadnavis, in his reply, not only agreed to hold a review meeting, but also took a jibe at Opposition parties Congress and the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) — who were alliance partners in the previous government. Fadnavis said, “In the past 10-15 years, urban infrastructure has remained on paper. It is only after the new government came to power that we are talking about urban development. A delay of 10 years is not only surprising, but also wrong. Now, there is coordination between the Centre, state and the civic body and that is reflecting on the ground.”
The in-fighting between the two parties had cropped many doubts about a continuity in their alliance for the 2017 elections. Be it at the civic body or the State level, the parties had many differences in the past couple of years. However, the leaders seem to be brushing aside the differences for the upcoming polls. While a section in the BJP still wants to go solo, there is thinking in the party top brass in the state that the two parties should try to work out an alliance to avoid surprises in the civic polls. They are also wary of the changed circumstances post-demonetisation and hence want to be cautious. Although the BJP has emerged on in the first phase of civic polls, the Congress has come second and the electoral equations may change if desperate Congress and NCP join hands for the next phases of local elections.
Meanwhile, Fadnavis criticised the NCP by referring to violence in the party’s recent meet. “I will definitely take heed of what Uddhavji has said [about pending projects] and set up a meeting. People know which parties are talking about development and those indulging in violence.” On Tuesday, a scuffle broke out between two factions of the NCP with allegations of firing in the incident.