BMC politics for dummies

A majority of the one crore denizens of the Mumbai metropolis -- all of whom are expected to exercise their democratic right to vote in the BMC elections this February -- have no idea about the political nitty-gritty surrounding the February polls to the civic body. 

The onerous task of paying property taxes, water bills, and other sundry payments due to the civic body is usually handed over to an office bearer of their respective housing societies, while the Mumbaikars bask in happy oblivion. In fact, almost none of them even make an effort to find out where the local BMC office is located. The word BMC is rarely uttered by them, and mostly as part of some sort of unflattering, grumbling remark about the potholes, broken drainage pipes, or broken water mains.  

Given the situation, it would be an exaggerated expectation to hope that many Mumbaikars are aware of the ongoing skullduggery -- in the name of political alliances -- for the coveted BMC throne. Let's begin with some figures. In the 2007 polls, 46 per cent of the 88 lakh-strong registered electorate managed to make it to the polling booths. Of them, 26.38 per cent voted for Congress, 22.71 per cent for Shiv Sena, 11.29 per cent for NCP, 10.43 per cent for MNS and 8.69 per cent for the BJP.

This break-up clearly drives home the inordinate importance of alliances: the Congress, in spite of being able to garner 10.19 lakh votes, could not assume power, as it was bested by the Shiv Sena-BJP alliance, with a collective vote share of 12.12 lakh votes. But had the Congress and NCP joined forces to form an alliance as it has in the state's legislative assembly, they would have collectively raked in 14.55 lakh votes, a whopping 2 lakh votes greater than the numbers raked in by the BJP-Shiv Sena alliance. 

This begs the question: why don't they join forces this time and fight the BMC elections as a united force, to unseat the Sena-BJP alliance? If there is any truth in numbers, they would have been quite a force to reckon with! 

Leave alone the politically-ignorant Mumbaikar, even those who hail from the political circles fail to predict whether the Congress and NCP will fight the upcoming civic polls jointly this year. While it is true that talks have been on between the bigwigs of both parties, rumour has it that a certain influential Congress MP from north-west Mumbai - Gurudas Kamat - raised a banner of discontent, demanding that Congress fight the BMC polls on its own.

Kamat's unwillingness comes as a surprise, as during his tenure as the city's Congress chief in 2007, it was his very party that was ready to cede as many as 65 seats to the NCP. This is exactly the number of seats that NCP is demanding this time as well. 

If party insiders are to be believed, Kamat, who is known as a bitter rival of the incumbent Mumbai Congress Chief Kripashankar Singh, is unhappy at the prospect of Singh holding the reins to more power, if the BMC is won by the Congress-NCP combine. Kamat's supporters also claim that Singh wanted to weaken his arch-rival by offering a maximum share of seats to the NCP from his strongholds. 

While the city Congress has been a divided house, there is strife in the NCP quarters as well. Party chief Sharad Pawar's motives are also shrouded in uncertainty, given his well-known affection towards Matoshree, residence of the Thackerays. His daughter Supriya's predilection for the Sena office bearers is also old news in political circles. But the other NCP heavyweight Ajit Pawar has always been held at gunpoint by Uddhav, who never lets go of an opportunity to launch a tirade against the deputy chief minister. 

Not long ago, during the winter session of the State Legislature in Nagpur, Ajit Pawar said in a meeting that he was in support of an alliance between the Congress and the NCP, as it is the only political body that has the power to give the BJP-saffron combine any competition for the BMC. 

In this unequivocal wish, Pawar junior is alone: all the senior leaders of the Congress or the NCP have expressed their veiled desire that the Sena remain at the reins of the BMC. 

To add some much-required suspense as the runners wait at the starting line, the Raj Thackeray-led MNS can be seen training hard for the race, with exams and interviews lined up for its aspiring candidates who wish to contest the elections. They may well emerge as the dark horse this time, but only time will tell.

The writer is Political Editor, MiD DAY

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