Keeping tabs? It's Sena's turn to go under scanner

Shiv Sena’s ‘promising’ assurance of reducing the weight of school bags of civic students by offering them tablet computers has raised a storm in political circles. This proposal, unlike others, which do not undergo public scrutiny because a layman does not understand the intricacies easily, has been questioned by the opposition and created doubts in the tech-savvy minds of people like you and me, who are well acquainted with modern gadgets such as tabs and smartphones. We know a particular device’s configuration, its utility and price range. The information is at hand at the click of a button and the touch of a screen, as well as offline.

The Sena cannot say the allegations are entirely politically motivated and hence needs to dispel doubts with convincing explanations because it has been accused of buying tablets from a particular company, which, the opposition says, has connections with a Sena Rajya Sabha member, whose family owns an electronic empire. The Sena has been facing a series of allegations in matters of civic governance, some of which are being probed now. Recently, CM Devendra Fadnavis asked the civic commissioner to investigate into irregularities in the clearing work of drainage and nullahs across the city. Shoddy road work and other poor basic infrastructure is always blamed on a nexus between the politicians, bureaucrats and contractors.

City Congress president Sanjay Nirupam has alleged that the tablets distributed to Std VIII students are of sub-standard quality and were assembled in 2013. He told a press conference on Friday that the tabs were useless because they don’t have Internet and bluetooth connectivity. “The Thackeray family is marketing the 22,799 tablets, each costing Rs 6,800, that were procured to favour a particular company owned by a Sena MP’s family. One such tablet was presented to Prime Minister Narendra Modi by (Sena’s youth wing chief) Aaditya Thackeray,” he said.

Playing smart, Nirupam has tried to negate his detractors’ charge that he avoids confrontation with his former party boss Uddhav Thackeray and his son. It would be interesting to see how the Sena chief responds to the ex-Sainik’s frontal attack. Nirupam has also targeted Civic Commissioner Ajoy Mehta, who was at the centrestage when the Congress chief threatened babus with violence if hawkers were not protected. He wants Mehta to prove his hands are clean in the deal, or else he would move the Central Vigilance Commission to demand justice. According to informa- tion, the project will initially cost R32 crore over two years, and require further Rs 400 crore because the Sena plans to cover all civic high schools.

It is also alleged that the tabs procured for BMC and those procured for the Sena for distributing to non-BMC schools under its flagship programme are different. Last month, the party gave 400 tabs to Std VIII students of Dadar’s Balmohan Vidya Mandir. This project is entirely funded by the party, its public representatives and corporate donors. The Sena deserves a bouquet for this one too, but then it should not shy away from being transparent. NCP’s city president Sachin Ahir wants the Sena to improve the condition of civic schools instead of splurging taxpayers’ money on buying ‘obsolete’ gadgets for the students. MNS has been opposing the procurement all along.

The Sena should remember that this controversy has placed it in the firing line. And with the BJP facing similar allegations, the Sena may lose an opportunity to score brownie points over its close rival, which is also its ruling partner in the Centre, state and BMC. The two parties are at loggerheads in the BMC over several issues. Sena should expect the BJP to leave no stone unturned to expose it ahead of civic polls in 2017 because the BJP does not necessarily want to join hands with its partner in the BMC. The BJP will continue to ensure that the Sena remains in control by using the ‘absolute’ power that is vested in the CM to control BMC’s administration and further trouble the partner. Ex-CM Prithviraj Chavan had applied similar tactics to rein in Sena’s leadership with amazing success.

The writer is Political Editor of mid-day

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