Mumbai is close to Fadnavis’ heart but he let it down, badly
What could be worse for Mumbai that the Constitutional care-taker was unable or unwilling to put the entire might of the State against those who threaten, bully and disrupt?mumbai Updated: Oct 26, 2016 12:31 IST
Chief minister Devendra Fadnavis is in a self-congratulatory mood that his government completes two years in office later this week. The over-riding theme is that his government initiated a slew of development projects, and is transforming Maharashtra before we can blink.
This isn’t surprising. Fadnavis follows in the footsteps of his idol and boss, Prime Minister Narendra Modi who has set new benchmarks, if not in hard-core governance, then certainly in optics and image management.
The deluge of advertisements and the interviews that Fadnavis has given in the last few days would have us believe the government has already notched up significant achievements. This self-fulfilling narrative is useful when elections to local bodies are due over the next few months and their outcomes will be read as a mini-referendum on the government. The most significant of these is the election to the country’s richest civic body, Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation, which the BJP wants to wrest control of.
One area of laudable work, we are told, is urban development and transformation of cities, especially high-profile ones such as Mumbai. Multiple multi-crore projects have been announced. Mumbai now has the coastal road, Trans Harbour Link, metro lines linking its length and width, two elevated rail corridors, opening up of salt pan lands, large-scale digitisation and the Smart Cities Mission initiatives. Mumbai and Nagpur, which is Fadnavis’ home city, are to be linked by an expressway which will pass through a number of districts making hundreds of acres of land available for industrial development.
Two years is too soon to make a comprehensive assessment of such projects; they barely get off the ground. But Fadnavis’ intent about cities is visible. However, he seems to read urban development as a collection of big-ticket physical infrastructure projects, involvement of corporate power, reliance on technology, and making selective areas attractive for foreign investors. Public participation and poorer areas of Mumbai are not on his radar.
Mumbai, he told a journalist recently, was very close to his heart. One of the first things he did as chief minister was to set up a “war room” in his office to monitor major projects he initiated in the city. The “war room” nomenclature signifies his aggressive approach. It pushes departments into fast action and ensures that projects are not stalled. With this micro-management of the city’s projects, you could say Fadnavis is a minister for Mumbai, hands-on and girded up.
But beyond the bridges and metros are the social, political and creative infrastructures of the city. And Fadnavis dealt them a body blow when he mediated between a representative body of Bollywood filmmakers and Raj Thackeray who threatened violence if the film Ae Dil Hai Mushkil was released. Powerful filmmaker Karan Johar was apologetic.
Always in search of emotional issues to whip up sentiments around elections, Thackeray objected to the film because it had a Pakistani actor which he said was unacceptable after the Uri attacks. Fadnavis allowed this enterprise of hate, chauvinism and pseudo-nationalism a free run initially when he could have sent a strong message to Thackeray’s boys. Then, he played broker to an extortion deal when Thackeray “allowed” the film’s release after filmmakers agreed to pay Rs 5crore to the Army Welfare Fund.
The minister of Mumbai had become, in a jiffy, the broker for Mumbai who used the authority of the chief minister’s office to legitimise the threat of violence and an extortion deal. Getting the CM on his side in so brazen a manner is Thackeray’s “victory”. It may have a political quid pro quo for Fadnavis who is trying hard to marginalise the Shiv Sena. But in these cynical games, Mumbai lost out.
This coupled with the fact that the Mumbai Film Festival pulled down an old Pakistani film, Jago Hua Savera, because it was threatened by a non-descript organisation meant that some of the most powerful people of Mumbai caved in to bullying. And the chief minister helped the bullies.
What could be worse for Mumbai that the Constitutional care-taker was unable or unwilling to put the entire might of the State against those who threaten, bully and disrupt?