The Brihanmmumbai Municipal Corporation, with a population of over 1 crore citizens to cater to, and an annual budget of over Rs 22,000 crore, is up for grabs. Citizens of this supposedly world-class metropolis are now being reminded of the development work done by the ruling alliance, while the party in Opposition is hard at work, to bring down a 17-year-long rule.
It is easy for any political party - with a fixed vote bank - to appeal to or awaken the regional spirit of the electorate, to ensure maximum votes and another tenure. And a gullible and easily convinced electorate rarely asks crucial questions about the development made by the city, vis- -vis international parameters. In this way, the electoral procedure gradually becomes a complete and utter sham, a formality, and parties find it easy to retain power.
The political atmosphere in the state is heating up, as the civic polls near. Unlike his predecessors who enjoyed cordial relationships with the Shiv Sena and BJP leaders, Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan recently launched into a scathing attack on them, appealing to his party men to work relentlessly and put an end to the 17-year-long corrupt rule of the saffron parties.
Chavan has also rolled up his socks and taken the initiative to put an end to internal feuding within his party. He recently made the past and present chiefs of the city Congress unit - MP Gurudas Kamat and Kripashankar Singh - sit together to sort out their differences.
But the Congress will certainly find itself in hot water, after the damage done to the party's image by the recent statements made by North Mumbai MP Sanjay Nirupam and AICC General Secretary Rahul Gandhi. Both made inappropriate remarks about the status of North Indians in Mumbai. While Nirupam claimed that services in Mumbai will disintegrate into chaos if his fellow Biharis and UPites went on strike, Gandhi asked North Indians how long they would continue to beg in Mumbai.
The Congress went into a huddle to salvage the situation and asked Nirupam to shut up, but faced the flak for Gandhi's statement. The party is bracing itself to face some tough questions while campaigning for the upcoming civic elections.
And what's happening in the Sena-BJP camp? Wary of MNS chief Raj Thackeray, the Sena camp appears upbeat, with the Ramdas Athawale-led RPI joining its league, as this ensures the party a certain percentage of Dalit votes, which might tilt the balance in its favour. In the meantime, the Sena-RPI closeness is sending disturbing signals to the BJP camp.
Once a party of firebrand leaders known for their fighting spirit and their ability to boost the morale of party workers, BJP today appears to be in deep trouble, facing an identity crisis of sorts. The party cannot claim credit for any revolutionary struggle that moved the masses. The Anna Hazares and Raju Shettis are leading from the front for the cause of common citizens. Both Hazare and Shetti seem to have filled a void created by the absence of strong political leadership for the middle classes.
Now, MNS Chief Raj Thackeray has announced a qualifying examination for all those who wish to obtain tickets to fight in the BMC elections. All aspirants will have to sit for a one-and-half hour exam. All has been quiet on the MNS-Sena front, with both parties avoiding confrontation. Traditional Marathi voters want both Raj and Uddhav to come together, but both parties know that sharing the benefits of power may become tricky. Who would want to lose control over the BMC, with an annual budget of Rs 22,000 crore, the power of doling and withholding building permissions, reservations and de-reservations of pricey plots?
So when it comes to the interest of Mumbaikars, no party can claim that it has led from the front for the sake of a public cause. Political parties should just be thanking their lucky stars that nobody asks them how many plots in Mumbai were grabbed for commercial exploitation, how many open spaces, grounds and gardens were grabbed by construction czars and slum lords, why there is no space available for parking and civic amenities, why people don't get any compassionate treatment at BMC offices, why so many employees get trapped in the Anti-Corruption Bureau nets, why the streets are lined with garbage and filth, and why BMC teams are so late with their fogging, pesticide and insecticide treatment.