The controversial open spaces policy for the city has turned into the latest flashpoint between allies Shiv Sena and the Bharatiya Janata Party, with Uddhav Thackeray on Sunday threatening retribution for the BJP’s U-turn on the issue.
The Sena chief warned his party would not hesitate to “throw in the dustbin” the Fadnavis government’s ‘Ease of doing business’ policy if it harmed labour interests and would be closely watching the ‘Make in Maharashtra’ inititative. “If we find any loopholes, we will have to rethink support for it,” Thackeray said, in comments that came just two days after chief minister Devendra Fadnavis intervened to put the open spaces policy on hold days after the BJP had voted with the Sena to get it approved in the BMC.
Taking a dig at the ally, Thackeray said at a function on Sunday that the open spaces policy was not as harmful to the common man as the land acquisition bill introduced in Parliament by the BJP-led central government. “The open spaces policy aims to provide open spaces to Mumbai’s citizens unlike the Centre’s land acquisition bill, which aims to take away land from poor farmers and hand it to rich industrialists. The Sena had opposed it,” Thackeray said. “The Sena will never indulge in double-standard policies. It was with support from the BJP corporators that the policy [open spaces] was approved, by a majority. But the political game that they have been playing in the past few days is annoying.”
Thackeray slammed the BJP, saying it was a unanimous decision by the allies to approve the open spaces policy as the Sena did not enjoy a majority in the BMC. The Sena has 75 members in the 227-strong BMC general council and the BJP 31.
Defending the BJP’s move to seek the CM’s intervention, the party’s city chief Ashish Shelar had said, “Manoj Kotak [BJP group leader in BMC] was raising the issue to refer back the open spaces policy in the general body meeting, but did not find any support.”
The sniping between the allies can be expected to increase as they jostle for political gains in the run-up to the civic elections in Mumbai in 2017, in which the BJP is keen to upstage the Sena.
After initially opposing the open spaces policy, the BJP had last week backed the Sena to push it through in the teeth of opposition from activists, who had warned that citizens would lose access to the city’s 1,068 open spaces if the policy was implemented.
HT has long campaigned to save Mumbai’s open spaces, ever since the policy was first implemented in 2006-07 and resulted in nine large plots falling into private hands, out of bounds to the public.
The new open spaces policy has been controversial, as activists feel it could see the return of the caretaker policy, through the back door. Their fear stems from the fate of the nine big plots handed over to private organisations under the earlier caretaker policy that was stayed in 2007, within a year of coming into effect. The nine plots — five are with politicians from ruling allies in the BMC — still remain in private hands and public access to them is severely restricted.
The allies have had a bitter-sweet relationship ever since they joined hands to form the government in the state in 2014.