The battle for Mumbai is officially on. In a stinging response to Shiv Sena chief Uddhav Thackeray’s decision to walk away from the alliance, chief minister Devendra Fadnavis on Saturday called the former ally in the civic body and its partner in the state government a party of “extortionists” whose dominance over Mumbai for the past 25 years was a huge loss to the megapolis.
The remarks came in Fadnavis’ address to his party cadre at the Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) show-of-strength rally in Goregaon, the venue where Thackeray broke off the alliance on January 26. The CM blamed the Sena’s refusal to come on board with transparency agenda and promise to change corrupt practices for the saffron allies’ split.
Drawing a parallel to the epic Mahabharat, the CM equated the battle for the country’s richest civic body to the “Dharmayudh”, and former ally Thackeray to Duryodhana, whose many advisors, like the wily “Shakuni mama”, had jinxed the alliance for the upcoming polls.
“I had only insisted on one thing. It was not about seats, but that the agenda should be transparency. Why is this agenda not acceptable to you? There is a difference in your thinking and doing and that has to change. We came to power in 2014 because the people were fed up of corruption and scams... You cannot make use of Shivaji Maharaj only in speeches and then go out under the saffron flag and collect hafta (extortion),” said Fadnavis.
He said the Sena’s offer of only 60 seats to the BJP made it clear they were never keen on an alliance. The CM also said as part of the saffron alliance, the BJP for the past 25 years as a small party had supported the Sena and helped it elect its own mayor year after year. But this came come at a cost to the city, he said. “The last 25 years was a big loss for Mumbai because the city was under your control. The lesson from this is that you should not let anyone drag you... it comes at the cost of public good.”
Fadnavis clearly pitted the BJP’s campaign for Mumbai on the twin planks of development and anti-corruption, as against the Sena’s emotive issues and identity politics, which he said was akin to giving people “marijuana pills”. Only during elections are communal, regional and parochial agendas flared up, Fadnavis said. “It is time to move away from this. The BJP will follow the only agenda given by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in this election, and that is sab ka saath sab ka vikas (development for all).”
The CM made it a point to highlight work done by his government in Mumbai over the past two years, right from setting up free Wi-Fi spots to planning the 200-km metro network and affordable housing. He claimed the Sena had been hypocritical when it came to big-ticket infrastructure projects such as the coastal road or Metro 3, working against development instead for it.
At the rally, there were liberal references to the Mahabharat — the BJP being given the righteous role of Pandavas, while Sena being referred to as Kauravas.
Mumbai city chief Ashish Shelar, who also addressed the rally, made it a point to show the BJP was as rooted to Mumbai, if not more, than the Sena.
With this rally and Fadnavis’ speech, mudslinging and name-calling between the former allies are likely over the next week, as attacks on neither Fadnavis nor Thackeray is off limits now.
The CM tried to walk the tightrope by spelling out the BJP’s battle with Sena was not on ideological grounds but on issues of governance, as it did not agree with their “corrupt work’’.