Having made the leap from being a House backbencher and first-time corporator to holding the post of the mayor — the highest in the BMC setup — in a span of two-odd years, the phenomenal rise of Snehal Ambekar, Mumbai’s first woman dalit mayor, has all the ingredients that go into the making of an inspirational story.
Corridors of power: Snehal Ambekar took time out to prepare for Monday’s General Body Meeting — her first as mayor — yesterday. Pic/Pradeep Dhivar
But, if her three days in office are anything to go by, the hurdles posed by her inexperience have a very good chance of marring her term. Ambekar, who has found herself in the eye of the red beacon storm already, faces one of her biggest challenges on Monday, when she will chair her first General Body Meeting of the BMC.
While the functioning of the BMC comes naturally to those who have served at least one five-year term, a visibly nervous Ambekar met the municipal secretary yesterday to understand all the rules and laws she needs to know ahead of the House meet. And, while the opposition is always a threat, she also has to contend with ego issues within the Shiv Sena, given the fact that senior corporators from her party, who she used to answer to so far, will now have to answer to her.
mid-day caught up with her yesterday to get her views on the red beacon controversy and to ask her about her priorities as the first citizen of the country’s financial capital. Excerpts:
When the lottery of Shiv Sena mayoral candidates was out, what was your reaction?
I was told that there are hardly any Schedule Caste candidates from Shiv Sena and heard that I would be discussed. When I was asked to file my nomination papers, I was very happy and couldn’t thank my party chief enough for showing confidence in a person who has hardly any political background.
What is your political background like?
I don’t have much of a political background. My husband has been associated with the Sena for a long time and is a party loyalist, but I was the first to have stood for elections from my family.
How does it feel to have won the mayoral elections?
It is a huge responsibility and I hope I don’t let anyone down, especially the citizens, as I come from a small ward (G-South, Parel) where I hardly had any scope to do much work as most of the area was covered by the PWD and MMRDA. But now, I have the responsibility of the whole city as the first citizen.
You catapulted from being a backbencher in the house to occupying the most elite position in the civic body....
Even though I was a backbencher, I observed my seniors speaking and the way they put forth their points. I did not, however, pay too much attention to how the mayor works. If I had done so, it would have probably been easier for me now.
You mentioned your seniors. Will you be comfortable being in a position where you outrank them?
Frankly, I am very nervous and tense as I have always looked up to them and I would not want to upset anyone. It is not me, however, but the chair, which gives me the right to do so.
After the red beacon controversy, how do you plan to tackle the opposition, which has threatened to file a contempt case against you?
The opposition’s job is to criticise to get the best out of me. However, I don’t have any set plan or anything to tackle them. I will react according to situations.
Your first General Body Meeting as Mayor is coming up soon. Thoughts?
I have called the municipal secretary to explain the working of the House to me. I don’t want to go wrong during the House proceedings and hence I wanted to know the laws, rules and traditions correctly before being the Speaker there.
Do you remember attending your first House meeting as a first-time corporator?
I got to speak for the first time on the budget last year, which was appreciated even by the opposition and that made me very happy. But, being in the ruling party, I hardly got a chance to speak after that and I guess won’t get to speak now as well.
What are your priorities going to be?
The plans are still taking shape. However, I will surely take the work of the past mayor ahead. I will focus on women’s safety, the coastal road project, providing better roads to the city and developing open spaces so that there are no encroachments.