Over the next week, assembly elections in Uttar Pradesh and elsewhere are also-rans as Mumbai elects its next municipal corporation. The magnificent Gothic building in Sobo, where the BMC is headquartered, will be the focus of attention.
Given its Rs35,000 crore budget – more than that of most states — the BMC, is the richest civic body in the country.
Not just that, whichever party wins these elections virtually has the run of the city. This in turn allows it greater leverage in state affairs, so it’s a real big deal.
And the battle this time is intense. Driving into the city from the airport on Thursday, chief minister Devendra Fadnavis popped up every now and then on hoardings, exhorting Mumbaikars to vote for his party.
The BJP’s adversaries have been less in-your-face, but the attempt to reach out to voters has been no less robust. This is particularly true of the Shiv Sena. Apart from high decibel public meetings and editorials in its mouthpiece Saamana, it came out with an eight-page supplement on Thursday extolling its own work in the corporation.
A footnote on the last page of the supplement caught my attention: It said 2,00,000 copies were printed, which is a heck of a big print run in these times and shows the Shiv Sena has pulled out all stops to retain pole position in the BMC.
In the past couple of weeks since the BJP and Shiv Sena decided to part ways, their bitter battle has held centre-stage: covered with dollops of irony as they remain allies still at the state and the Centre.
The two parties have run the BMC together for three consecutive terms but have split for this election after protracted bickering that saw claims and counterclaims of unexpected and extreme hostility.
The BJP’s main plank has been ridding the BMC of corruption. Initially this seemed like an oblique way of keeping the Shiv Sena in check where sharing of seats is concerned, but soon it became no holds barred.
The Sena, on the other hand, has run a long and intriguing campaign against the BJP, against chief minister Devendra Fadnavis and extended this even to prime minister Narendra Modi.
Party chief Uddhav Thackeray, his son Aaditya and Saamana have been scathing about demonetisation, non-return of black money etc which have got more traction than sanitation, garbage and roads.
Interestingly, the Sena is putting up several Gujarati candidates – rather than only Marathi manoos – and also appears to be tweaking its idea of what makes a “son of the soil” to be seen as more inclusive.
Now this also means someone who has lived in Maharashtra and worked for Maharashtra, not just a Maharashtrian by birth. Whether this is a radical policy change or mere political expediency remains to be seen.
Given the overall tenor of campaigning, it never ceases to amaze me how at election time (at all levels) parties dole out all kinds of promises and freebies. Whoever says that India is a poor country if so much money is so readily available!
All told, this seems a municipal election being fought with a national perspective. For Maharashtra’s politicians, in many ways it is a pointer to the next assembly elections, possibly also a forerunner to general elections.
It would be imprudent to say that BMC elections are essentially restricted to two parties. Poll predictions are hazardous and best left to those intrepid enough to risk foot-in-mouth consequences.
A wag told me, facetiously, that the best time to hold municipal elections in Mumbai would be one month into the monsoon. The reason is obvious: the only time Mumbaikars remember that the BMC is in charge of roads is when the roads become potholes.
But that age-old apathy needs to be shrugged off. For the city’s denizens, this is an opportunity to push for better facilities from the municipal corporation. This is possible through study and analyses of candidates and post elections holding them to their promise.
Between these two activities, of course, comes the most crucial one. Casting the vote. We must.