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Tuesday, Nov 19, 2019

Election minus contest, unipolar politics isn’t good news

The gradual disintegration of opposition parties has meant that the contrarian or challenger voice does not get reflected in the Assembly

mumbai Updated: Sep 26, 2019 00:48 IST
Smruti Koppikar
Smruti Koppikar
Hindustan Times
Maharastra chief minister Devendra Fadnavis has been campaigning for his party, the BJP ahead of the Assembly elections.
Maharastra chief minister Devendra Fadnavis has been campaigning for his party, the BJP ahead of the Assembly elections.(AFP)
         

In the forthcoming Assembly polls, Mumbaiites will elect 36 representatives who are expected to articulate their concerns in the legislative body, raise and resolve issues, and speak up for the larger good of the city. This election should happen on the back of campaigns and debates centred on issues that Mumbai faces, where opposition parties demand accountability from the government and offer alternatives. None of these are visible in Mumbai at this time.

As in the rest of Maharashtra, so in Mumbai, the election is increasingly one without a contest. The ruling BJP-Shiv Sena is sitting smug while the Congress-NCP and other parties are in disarray or dis-spirited.

Whether the BJP and Shiv Sena contest as an alliance or independent of each other, BJP’s top leaders – party president Amit Shah and Maharashtra CM Devendra Fadnavis, who held high-visibility events in the last few days – have declared that Mumbai will elect all 36 of its MLAs from the saffron parties. Nothing could be worse.

In 2014, 29 of 36 MLAs were from these two parties – 15 BJP, 14 Shiv Sena – making it a near-dominance of their ideologies and policies. The Congress had only five, the Samajwadi Party (SP) and the AIMIM, one each. Reports on their performance in the Assembly have been mixed as per independent policy organisations. They have been more accessible to citizens but the quality of questions they raised in the Assembly have been fewer than in the 2009-14 period. More of them have been charge-sheeted in criminal cases but public perception is that they are less corrupt than their predecessors.

The two previous Assembly compositions were more democratic. In 2009, Congress-NCP had 20 MLAs, BJP-Sena had nine, Maharashtra Navnirman Sena had six, and SP, one. In 2004 when Mumbai elected 34 MLAs, Congress-NCP had 19, BJP-Sena 14. This meant that ruling party MLAs were held to account by the then opposition BJP-Sena. Citizens’ issues were articulated and turned into street agitations. The Congress-NCP could not breathe easy. In the Fadnavis-government era, it isn’t merely that the BJP-Sena enjoyed dominance; the problem is that Congress-NCP gave them an easy pass on Mumbai’s issues.

Across the city, the Congress has been in decline. Its organisational strength has reduced; its leaders pull in different directions on petty grounds, its narrative is non-cohesive. The NCP hardly registers its presence. The SP, AIMIM, and Dalit parties talk to and about their committed voters; the Aam Aadmi Party gamely tries to speak. Who demands answers of the government? Who agitates on behalf of Mumbaiites?

Crumbling infrastructure and poor flood management, collapse of bridges, pathetic condition of roads, haphazard construction of Metro lines including using Aarey Colony for a car shed, should have been the cause for massive agitations in the last few years. Now, in election season, the ruination of a cooperative bank and rising prices of onions should have brought opposition parties out in full strength. They barely issued statements. With non-articulation of issues and lack of agitations, they left Mumbai’s political space vacant over the years.

In the absence of well-articulated campaigns around voters’ concerns, the BJP, which is in permanent election campaign mode, has made the reading down of Article 370 and its version of nationalism into election issues in Maharashtra.

Amit Shah knows well that this election is about Mumbai and Maharashtra, not a parliamentary one, but he is only too happy to fill in the vacant space with his agenda. Congress and NCP reacted to Shah when they should have been pro-active.

The gradual disintegration of opposition parties has meant that not only does the contrarian or challenger voice not get reflected in the Assembly but that it is not heard on the streets either. Unipolar politics may be great for the party in power, but it spells bad news for a pluralistic and diverse city.