Covid management: Shiv Sena’s shot at retaining stronghold Mumbai
With Covid-19 expected to be a major issue even for the rest of 2021, the Shiv Sena has turned its entire attention to managing the disease in the city, considering the party rules the state as well as the Mumbai civic body
With Covid-19 expected to be a major issue even for the rest of 2021, the Shiv Sena has turned its entire attention to managing the disease in the city, considering the party rules the state as well as the Mumbai civic body. While the second wave seems to be waning, the Sena is now focusing on vaccination in Mumbai and preparing infrastructure for the projected third wave that could hit between July and September.
Mumbai is important in the Sena’s political plans. The party has been ruling the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC), which handles local governance in India’s financial capital, for almost three decades. The BMC has an annual budget of over ₹30,000 crore, which is more than a few small states in India, giving the Sena its strength and influence.
Consequently, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has been making plans to wrest control of the civic body. In the 2017 civic polls, the BJP emerged the second biggest party after the Sena, and the party’s leader in the state, Devendra Fadnavis, is working on winning power in the BMC in the next civic polls scheduled to be held in February 2022. The Sena, meanwhile, is working on its counter-strategy.
The party’s efforts in Mumbai are largely handled by environment and tourism minister and Sena leader Aaditya Thackeray, insiders said. Thackeray, the guardian minister of Mumbai (suburban district), has been holding regular review meetings with top civic officials during the second wave.
The Sena cadre and Yuva Sena (party’s youth wing headed by Aaditya Thackeray) functionaries have been on the ground since the pandemic hit in March 2020. During the second wave, they were helping people with admissions to hospitals, securing anti-viral injections Remdesivir and Tocilizumab, getting oxygen cylinders, etc. Now, the Sena-controlled BMC has decided to set up vaccination centres in each of the 227 wards across the city, asking corporators to take initiative and set up helpdesks to guide people.
Thackeray’s meeting with senior civic officials has yielded decisions such as two-time reporting from laboratories, instead of the 24-hour cycle; helping patients secure a bed at jumbo facilities even at night; increasing bed capacity on war-footing; drive-in vaccination centres and calling global tenders for 10 million vaccine doses. As a part of the preparation for the third wave, earlier this month, Thackeray directed BMC officials to set up a dedicated paediatric Covid-19 ward at Nesco exhibition ground — one of the BMC’s jumbo Covid Care Centres.
Shiv Sena MP and party’s chief spokesperson Arvind Sawant said the idea is that if Mumbai gets safe, so does Maharashtra. “The European nations and United States of America have vaccinated their citizens on a large scale and are now protected against Covid. Our focus has not shifted. Aaditya ji has said that each ward should at least have one vaccination centre. Then we took a decision to add more centres in wards; in my constituency we have two to three vaccination centres. The idea was simple – to bring the vaccination centres closer home. He (Aaditya) also came up with the idea of drive-in vaccination,” said Sawant. The vaccination centres are mostly run by the BMC and in some cases by private hospitals in association with elected representatives.
The BJP is likely to use all its might to wrest the civic body from the Sena, while the latter is looking for a Covid success story to get an upper hand. However, Sawant denied there are any political calculations behind the management. “In Mumbai, the Shiv Sena is known for its social work. Our shakhas (local offices) are a centre for people to voice their grievances or seek help. It has created enormous goodwill for us over the years. In times of a pandemic, it is logical that people would expect us to help them and we are anyway doing it,” said a former Sena mayor. “The only addition is making our on-ground work known. The BJP has a massive machinery for marketing, which shows what their governments do irrespective of their actual performance. We also need to keep people informed,” she added.
In 2017, the BJP and Sena, despite being in power in alliance in the state, fought the civic polls against each other. It was a close contest, with the Sena securing 84 seats and the BJP bagging 81 seats, in the 227-member body. The BJP would want to capitalise on its numbers in the upcoming elections and has been targeting the Sena-led corporation over the handling of Covid-19 in Mumbai. Earlier this month, Fadnavis alleged the death figures in Mumbai are being fudged and the number of RT-PCR tests has reduced to show a lower case count. Earlier, the BJP has also alleged corruption in the construction of Covid Care Centres.
Political analyst Surendra Jondhale said this time, traditional agendas and planks such as Hindutva ideology and Marathi manoos will not be at the fore in the campaigning for BMC polls. “The conversation has changed due to Covid now. People will look at Covid handling and vaccinations. For Shiv Sena, the prime political concern will be handling the third wave and vaccination. The BJP government at the Centre is creating a bottleneck in vaccination, not just for Mumbai, but also for the state. The BJP, which gave a neck-and-neck fight last time, wants to win the BMC elections after losing the state,” Jondhale, a former professor of political science at Mumbai University, said.