The acrimony between allies BJP and Shiv Sena has dominated the campaign for civic elections in Mumbai and other cities of Maharashtra, relegating pressing civic issues to the background.
The acrimony between allies BJP and Shiv Sena has dominated the campaign for civic elections in Mumbai and other cities of Maharashtra, relegating pressing civic issues to the background. With less than a week to go for the polls, it has turned into battle of prestige for Devendra Fadnavis, heading the state’s first BJP-led government, and Shiv Sena chief Uddhav Thackeray. Congress, which is plagued by infighting, has failed to take advantage of the BJP-Sena rift, according to political observers. The electoral scene is dominated by trading of charges, especially in the case of Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation, Asia’s richest civic body with an annual budget of Rs 38,000 crore. It has become all the more important for Shiv Sena to retain control over Mumbai, its political heartland ever since its formation in 1960s, after its dominant role in state politics eroded when BJP emerged as the single largest party in the Assembly polls in 2014.
BJP is now eyeing to wrest the BMC from the Sena, with which it has been ruling the Mumbai civic body for last 22 years. Shiv Sena did not take kindly to the ally’s bid to “usurp” its authority in Mumbai and even threatened to chart out its independent political course. Watching the saffron battle gleefully, NCP chief Sharad Pawar has ruled out extending support to the BJP government in the event of Sena pulling the plug, saying his party would rather prefer mid-term polls.
Justifying the outside support extended to the BJP after 2014, Pawar said it was to prevent fresh polls then, but the state could now go for mid-term elections. Congress, which has always been a divided house in the city, has failed to put up a united fight. Congress veteran Gurudas Kamat openly criticised city party chief Sanjay Nirupam and AICC general secretary Mohan Prakash over their style of functioning and not taking along all the leaders in decision-making. The bickering in the party unit forced AICC to rush Haryana leader Bhupinder Singh Hooda to the city to sort out the issues, following which Kamat relented. In the cacophony, larger civic issues like good roads, uninterrupted water supply and other basic amenities which the common man looks for, have drowned, the observers feel.
The elections, to be held on February 16 and 21, cover almost 80 per cent of the state’s electorate from 25 zilla parishads, 283 panchayat samitis and 10 municipal corporations. Fadnavis and Thackeray have led from the front in the no-holds-barred attack against each other. It has also put a question mark on the stability of the state government with the Sena chief asserting that he has put the ministry on “notice period.”
A section in Shiv Sena feels if the party does well in the civic polls, there is a possibility that it could pull out of the government. But, in interviews to media, Uddhav later appeared to mellow down and said if the government waives loans of farmers, his party would continue to support the government. Congress and NCP, which are also going solo, have taken a dig at the Sena chief, saying he is raising farm sector distress as an excuse to remain in power. The BJP has been harping on transparency in the civic administration while the Sena has mocked it, asking where is transparency in the state and central governments.
The CM retorted by alleging that many scams in the civic body have been unearthed. Seeking to turn the tables on Fadnavis, the Sena leaders have alleged that his stint as Mayor of his hometown Nagpur years back was not corruption-free, a charge the BJP rejected as far from truth.
While Sena posters in Mumbai highlight its “achievements” as “karun dakhavla” (we have done what we promised), BJP’s campaign revolves around Fadnavis, who asks voters to trust his “word” in developing Mumbai (‘swachh, sunder Mumbai, ha majha shabd aahe’). The Congress, Sena and MNS have also been affected by internal rebellion and defections with some of the former legislators and office-bearers joining BJP.