It is open season between the Shiv Sena and the BJP. The sniping between the two allies at the Centre and state gained momentum in the last few weeks as both parties got into election mode for the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC). Kirit Somaiya, BJP MP and trouble-maker, has fired the latest salvo this week.
In a television interview, he claimed that “there is a ‘ghotala’ (corruption) in every BMC department… There is a ‘Saheb’ who lives in Bandra, he has two advisers, one is his ‘saala’ (brother-in-Law), and the other is Saheb’s personal aide. Saheb take orders from the duo and passes them on to the (BMC) mafia”. Somaiya did not name the people but left nobody in any doubt.
In the last year or so, there were no less than ten major occasions on which the two parties traded barbs. This included the Sena’s scathing criticism of Prime Minister Narendra Modi for his handling of Pakistan policy, drought and student agitations. The BJP is now returning the compliment by targeting Uddhav Thackeray and the infamous coterie that surrounds – and often dominates – him. This is a rare occasion on which he has been directly targeted.
As the civic polls draw near, the verbal sniping and shelling will escalate. Eventually, one party’s leadership may decide to break the alliance and contest the election on its own strength. That might affect their relationship at the state and/or the Centre. But this internecine politics takes away from the core issue: Mumbai’s future as a thriving, vivacious, international city and the economic powerhouse of the country.
The BJP and Somaiya would like to create a perception that only the Sena is answerable for the civic governance deficit and the ills which plague Mumbai. Of course, it is, given that it has enjoyed a majority in the BMC in the last two decades which overlap the city’s civic decline. This is only partly true. The BJP has been its chief ally in the civic body and, as such, must share the blame. So should the Congress and the National Congress Party which were in charge of urban development and planning for 15 years till the Devendra Fadnavis government was sworn in.
In fact, the city’s planning and major projects were hived off by the Congress-led governments to be done by Special Purpose Vehicles (SPVs) or autonomous organisations that reported directly to the chief minister. The BMC’s role and control were gradually and methodically stymied. City planning turned into project planning, and project-unworthy areas received little attention. The yawning gap between the two Mumbais, the inequality between them, is large and growing.
Fadnavis as chief minister has given this centralised, undemocratic and top-heavy system a major boost in the last 18 months. This is not to suggest that the BMC has been free of corruption. From road contracts and desilting drains to garbage disposal, education and health services, there have been frequent allegations of a favoured few bagging contracts though they were charged with shoddy services. That favouritism and nepotism is now ingrained in the civic system is an open secret. Both the Sena and BJP are responsible for the slide.
In the months to come, both parties will trade insults and accuse each other of corrupt practices. Mumbai deserves better. Beyond allegations and counter-allegations, citizens must demand answers from both the parties – indeed from all parties – and their plans and programmes to improve the quality of civic services. The ideal scenario would be to have independent and citizen-centric corporators elected to the BMC in large numbers. If this cannot be, the only way to cut through the political chatter is for citizens to keep bringing the focus back to the city and its civic services during the election in different ways.