At the dramatic press conference, which was upstaged by Shiv Sena MP Anand Paranjpe on Friday, NCP supremo Sharad Pawar said that a changed Mumbai was the need of the hour. The statement is significant, coming from a man who has been part of this vibrant metropolis, having served the city in different capacities as it grew.
Even though he always prefers to be known as a Baramati resident, Pawar's association with this city dates back to 1963, when he used to occupy a single room at the State Congress headquarters in Tilak Bhavan, Prabhadevi. He later shifted to Maheshwari Mansion on Nepean Sea Road and thereafter to Ramalayam on Peddar Road. He now calls the Sliver Oaks estate in Breach Candy his home.
So Pawar has his finger firmly on the pulse of the city, not just because he has lived in different parts of the city over the years, but because he has been associated with it in different capacities as a state minister, chief minister, chief of the Mumbai Marathi Granth Sangrahalaya, Yashwantrao Chavan Centre, Nehru Centre, Maharashtra Olympic Association, Mumbai Cricket Association, to name just a few.
He was credited with visualising and implementing the development of the Bandra Kurla Complex, bringing about relaxation and modification of Development Control Rules (DCR) for Mumbai, and with having taken major decisions concerning the redevelopment of textiles mills in Central Mumbai. These are just a few of his achievements.
It must be noted, however, that Pawar did not take much interest in Mumbai's civic affairs, leaving them to be managed by the Shiv Sena, which ruled BMC. He concentrated his energies on the political scenario in rural Maharashtra. Pawar, who is known for having state political affairs at his fingertips, never took serious interest in local politics in Mumbai and Thane, perhaps intentionally leaving it to the Sena.
The last Congress win came in 1992, when the Shiv Sena was at its peak, and Chief Bal Thackeray was eager to unseat the Pawar-led state government. Though Congress lost to the Sena-BJP alliance in the 1995 Assembly elections, no serious efforts were made by Pawar to wrest the civic body from the saffron alliance during the elections held in 2002 and 2007.
Pawar and Thackeray share a special bond, even though they never spare each other in public. In 2007 when the Congress-NCP alliance broke over just one seat, it is said that Pawar wanted to return the favour that the Sena-BJP alliance had done him by not fielding its candidate for the 2006 by-election to Rajya Sabha, allowing Pawar's daughter Supriya to win the seat.
After he was slapped recently, the Thackerays commiserated. Pawar lost no time in deputing Supriya to pay a visit to the Thackeray patriarch at Matoshree to convey his gratitude. Pawar is known for the excellent rapport he shares with Bal Thackery. However, he has reserved his affection when it comes to the next generation of the Thackeray family. Uddhav too has been quite vocal against Pawar, making jibes for the latter's love for cricket.
Now, in the changed political scenario -- when the Congress-led UPA government is neck deep in controversies -- Pawar, true to his role as a wily politician, has decided to topple the Sena-BJP alliance from the BMC. He offered a convenient rationale, saying that the results of the recent municipal council elections showed that people a new power managing cities.
It is clear that the NCP supremo is aggressively trying to increase his party's presence in the all-important Mumbai-Thane belt, which has 10 Lok Sabha seats and 60 assembly constituencies. This is a clear warning to the Congress, which has poor presence in Thane district.
Pawar's campaign comes close on the heels of Sena's attempts to win back a few NCP leaders from Thane district, including MLC Subhash Bhoir. Pawar has sent a clear warning to his own party man Vasant Dawkhare, who is not on good terms with Thane NCP chief Jitendra Avhad. Pawar is striving for more power, and has struck while the iron is hot.
The writer is Political Editor, MiD DAY