2019 Lok Sabha elections: Mumbai has lost its voice in 5 years, says Congress leader Milind Deora
Mumbai elections are always fought based on what is the national mood, and then what happens locally as well, he saysUpdated: Apr 11, 2019 00:04 IST
City Congress chief and Mumbai South candidate Milind Deora tells HT why people should vote for his party.
Excerpts from the interview:
What does your contest look like? What are your chances of winning this election?
Mumbai elections are always fought based on what is the national mood, and then what happens locally as well. Each candidate has to localise the election. In my opinion, that is the winning advantage we have. There is no publicity campaign for the Congress. So we are localising the elections on a constituency level. If I were to look back at 2014, we were in power before the elections, we could feel there was anti-incumbency against us, we knew that people wanted a change, and they were upset. It looked very likely that we were going to lose the election. Today, there is irritation among anti-Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) voters, like I want to do something. I feel there is something on the ground that is moving. People are willing to listen, and are interested in what you have to say.
Even today, the pro-BJP voice is louder than the pro-Congress voice, for example, say on social media.
The pro-Congress voices are almost subdued, muted, afraid to speak out in public for the fear of getting trolled, but that doesn’t mean they can’t vote and be heard.
If you win, how will you deal with the priorities of Mumbai? Because in our city, there are municipal level problems, there are MLA (state) level problems ...
I really feel that in the past five years, Mumbai has lost its voice. Because of the Modi wave, people shut their eyes and voted in 2014, regardless of who the candidate was. Hence, Mumbai has poor representation in Delhi. Our Members of Parliament (MPs) don’t use their voices effectively. For example, in 2005, when the floods happened, we raised the issue and got Central grant. All six MPs from Mumbai today are from the ruling party in the Central government, yet we see little effective change on ground. MPs actually play a big role in local issues. They don’t have the executive power, but if they lend their voice to certain issues, things can move. And this has not been a cornerstone for any MP in the past five years, I have not seen a sense of urgency among the MPs, and it needs to come back.
What are your strengths as a party in this election?
In the past few months, the narrative of the ruling party has changed from Ram Mandir to development issues, to now the Hindutva agenda. We, in the Congress, are saying: ‘Let’s talk a lot about the things that really matter. Let’s focus on development, urban planning, jobs, economy, NYAY (Congress’ scheme aimed at giving cash benefits to the poor). The ruling party has realised it has lost out on that front and is therefore resorting to connect with the voter on an emotional level, and the narrative has spun into something else. But we don’t want to distract the voter. We are steering clear of the debate over nationalism. The NYAY issue has really struck a chord with people. I think, in these elections, the local, tactical issues will matter more. Even the hardest bastions of the BJP and Shiv Sena are now willing to listen to an alternative voice.
As the Mumbai Congress president you had said that you won’t tolerate indiscipline. In six months, the state will see the Assembly elections. Do you think you will be able to discipline your organisation?
My message is – Let’s unite this party and keep the organisation active and resilient. Taking people along is not tough for me, I am capable of doing that. Creating a disciplined organisation is a tough job, but it needs to be done. Sanjay (Nirupam) did it, but he had certain difficulties, and he could not take certain people along. In any organisation, if you can’t take your team along, you can’t implement your vision. My first goal for April 30 will be – Let’s unite the party regardless of what the result will be on May 23, then let us make this a disciplined organisation, where people don’t work against each other. I see no reason why the Mumbai Congress can’t become a platform to raise the city’s most pertinent issues.
In Mumbai, how do you plan to battle the reach of a regional party such as the Shiv Sena, which has more footsoldiers and grass-root presence than a national party?
The Congress has pan-India presence, but in regional parties, your resources are spread better than the national parties. In south Mumbai, the Shiv Sena is present in Marathi-dominated areas. This is a problem and a blessing. The Congress in that sense is spread thin. We have to be present everywhere, from Dongri to Malabar Hill to Sewri. I am campaigning in every area, but my opponent has the advantage of ignoring the areas the BJP covers for him. The Sena and BJP have the advantage to focus on areas where they have strong followers, ignore the other areas and still win. We genuinely don’t go for that kind of discrimination.
A lot of voters say that Modi has failed, in jobs or national security, but what alternative do we have? Do you think the Congress has failed to build a narrative to win over this voter, which is effectively pushing them back to the BJP?
A person who is saying there is no alternative is probably a BJP voter in any case. If there is a liberal voter who is upset with the BJP, he will not say the Congress is not an alternative. He will say the Congress needs to do more, but let me vote for the Congress because I don’t want to vote for the BJP. Having said that, we must not underestimate the negative vote, which is far more important than the positive vote. A lot of fence-sitters, who were upset with us in 2014, saw Narendra Modi and the BJP as a solution. At that time, they may not be happy with the Congress, but they thought, I want this person out. Someone who says that he can’t stand the BJP and Shiv Sena and wants to teach Modi a lesson, will vote for an alternative.
What is the Congress’s vision to develop the eastern waterfront on Mumbai Port Trust’s land?
Our aim is to allow development, but certainly not in isolation. Whether it is MbPT land, or coastal road, this government has ignored local factors while going ahead with development. In a country like ours, I can’t stress enough on the need to take time and consult people on projects that directly affect them. I don’t think the Mumbai port trust has done it that way. I have not seen something like this in any city in the world, which has so much land, taking the liberty to develop it the way it wants, with no link to the city itself. You can’t have development in the city without taking the remainder of it into consideration.