There are barely 16 days to go for elections to the BMC, established by the British in 1882. Political parties vying to establish their control over the civic body - the wealthiest in the nation with an annual budget of Rs 23,000 crore - are busy in the politics of induction, defection and damage control. Party ideologies have gone for a toss, with ticket seekers venting their anger before party offices and staging gheraos in front of their leaders.
The entire state is in the throes of election fever, as polling will be conducted for zilla parishad and panchayat, as well as 10 municipal corporations across the state. In an era of cut-throat competition, the definition of politics as a noble service for the larger interest of society has taken a back seat, having assumed proportions of a business venture with lucrative gains. What is sacrificed at the altar of this acquisitiveness is the earnestness to elect an ideal representative.
The electorate is no better, with only 42.5% having voted in 2002, and 45% in 2007. This, for a city teeming with 1.25 crore citizens. Once you do get past the customary laziness that afflicts most citizens, there are, surprisingly quite a number of things that can be done to bring in change. For starters, one can question to what extent the parties have lived up to their pre-election manifestos. Why not make note of what they promise when they come begging for votes next time?
But here's some help. The BJP Shiv Sena combine, in their manifesto for the civic polls in 2007 had promised the following - sufficient water supply, harnessing of well water, cleaning of ponds, pothole-free roads, encroachment-free playgrounds, better medical facilities at BMC hospitals, focus on employment-oriented educational courses, solar power lighting at playgrounds and generation of power from waste. It doesn't take a rocket-scientist to tell if any of those claims has been honoured.
The allegations levelled by Sena-BJP against the Congress have been quite the same as that in the past - the Congress-led government is trying to erode the BMC's autonomy, vital infrastructure projects are being executed by the MMRDA, MHADA and MSRDC. The 2007 manifesto had also assured the generation of 40 MW power from the Middle Vaitarna project, and the introduction of capital value-based property tax instead of a ratable value system.
Today the Sena is silent on the issue of octroi abolition, but back in 2007 loud claims had been made by Uddhav Thackeray saying that the state government had to take a decision on the issue. Promises had also been made for garbage collection twice a day, and the installation of 24/7 control rooms at each ward office to monitor the provisions for water and other essential services. They had also promised that 10 lakh trees would be planted between 2007 and 2012, that girls born in BMC hospitals would get to travel free on BEST buses till Std XII, and that subways and parking lots would be built to ease traffic congestion. Also on the list of promises were mass housing projects, a rule in place to force corporators to give balance sheets of their BMC funds, and details of work carried out.
In its manifesto released in 2002, Sena-BJP alliance had spoken of computerisation of services, super-specialty hospitals, lower property-tax structure for the suburbs, infrastructural development and special care centres for senior citizens. BJP had even demanded that power supply in the suburbs be handed over to the BEST. It also spoke of securing Rs 200 crore from the central government for constructing two super-specialty hospitals,in the suburbs.
Elections have come and gone, but no qualitative debate has taken place on the manifestos and promises made by the political parties, to see to what has been delivered so far. Similar to the promises made by Sena-BJP, the Democratic Front Alliance comprising Congress and NCP had, in its manifesto released prior to the 2009 general elections, promised a better Mumbai.
It had promised a crisis management group with officials from the city's police department and BMC, which would deal with natural as well as manmade calamities. It had also promised an emergency response group under the aegis of the BMC commissioner. No significant steps have been taken for early completion of Metro and Monorail projects, or the development of tourism in Mumbai. Even the MMRDA projects have seen delays.
Launching the campaign trail on January 25, the saffron combine appealed to the Marathi manoos to support them. Similarly, Congress-NCP will appeal both the locals as well as the migrants to vote for them and manifestos will be lost in all the mayhem and mudslinging. The hapless Mumbaikar will be left cursing himself for the crumbling infrastructure, unsafe living conditions and poor standard of life in Mumbai, and in all probability, roll over and go back to sleep on polling day.
The writer is Political Editor, MiD DAY