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How does the battle for BMC help Mumbai?

mumbai Updated: Oct 14, 2016 01:06 IST
Ayaz Memon
Ayaz Memon
Hindustan Times
Highlight Story

In the increasingly fractious marriage between the Shiv Sena and the Bharatiya Janata Party, it hardly need be explained, the Brihanmumbai Municipal Commission election due next year is the next battleground.

Stories from both parties – either praising their own efforts or debunking the other – have proliferated in newspapers over the past few weeks. As the deadline for the elections approaches, doubtless, this will reach a crescendo.

At stake, of course, is the opportunity to take charge of the country’s richest municipal corporation located in one of the most magnificent Gothic structures that SoBo (there are several in this part of town still thankfully) boasts of.

Indeed, the BMC headquarters would find few parallels anywhere else in the country: as much for its breathtaking architecture as the huge influence over Mumbai it accommodates in its precincts.

A reporter on the BMC beat – now retired -- for a paper I used to edit, once told me that every nook, cranny and crevice of the headquarters held out a story. Reporters can sometimes be guilty of flights of fancy, but this was no exaggeration.

Given the nature and scope of work every cog in the BMC wheel, so to speak, is important. The problem nowadays from some decades back -- as old-timers lament – is that every cog now sees this importance as an end in itself.

With a mind-boggling annual budget of Rs35,000 crore – give or take a few hundred – the BMC coffers are larger than most states in India. This explains why prospective councilors see themselves not as service providers, but satraps.

But money is only one half of the reason why winning the BMC is so coveted. The other part, no less important, is the influence that can be wielded over the country’s most important (still) city.

True Delhi is the seat of power in the country. In the past couple of decades, it has also moved ahead where business is concerned: certainly the corporate end of it, what with most multinationals based out of there.

But Mumbai is still the city that sets the tempo and trend for the country and not only because Bollywood is located here. There are strong legacies in other aspects too: fashion, cricket, work ethic etc and not the least cosmopolitanism.

Unfortunately in recent years, the BMC has become a playground for political one-upmanship in which politicial parties have ceased to understand the interests of Mumbaikars as paramount.

The current battle between the BJP and Sena reflects that too. Both parties have controlled the BMC for the past 20 years. But each blames the other for the mess that is Mumbai. And this time, there is no Congress-NCP state government to point fingers at either.

The BJP is stuck on exposing corruption within the BMC, though how it can whitewash its own complicity in past decisions taken by the corporation is inexplicable.

The Sena, trying a different - and worthwhile -- tack to make an impact on the young, aims to revive nightlife in the city and be seen as progressive, but is still unable to conciliate this entirely with its otherwise obscurantist agenda.

As BMC elections approach, both parties have raised the ante. The Sena adopts a mocking tone when it discusses the BJPand even the prime minister. Annoy us and watch how we conduct a surgical strike, they say. The BJP answers that only someone with a 56-inch chest can speak of surgical strikes.

Where though does all this public slanging leave the BMC and the city of Mumbai?

As neither party talks convincingly about how Mumbai is going to benefit, I can’t venture an answer. Perhaps this line from an iconic song by Bob Dylan, who was named Nobel winner for literature last night sums it up best.

“The answer my friend, is blowing in the wind.”