Time to forgive the past and thank the mayor

She was booed when she shed all inhibitions to dance with her husband at a cultural event at her official residence. We questioned her common sense when she held the media responsible for the killer disease, dengue. We laughed at her when she said swine flu was a heart disease and we should plant more trees to get rid of the ailment. That’s Mumbai Mayor Snehal Ambekar.

But it’s time Mumbaikars forgive their First Citizen for the past, and thank her for doing what most politicians, especially in the ruling party, would not dare do. She has spoken out about rampant corruption in the city’s civic body that she heads politically. She has asked for a probe into malpractices that earn enormous amounts of money for contractors and corrupt officials (Ambekar steered clear of mentioning politicians).

The mayor’s office is ornamental in many ways because it does not really enjoy powers to make changes that the citizens would like to see. However, Ambekar shot into limelight last week when her letter to civic commissioner Ajoy Mehta was leaked. It wasn’t a request for a favour or two from the BMC’s powerful administrative chief. Instead, the letter asked him to look into corrupt practices in the Road department. She even specified technical details that pinpointed contractors and corrupt officials who were pocketing 80% of the total money that the BMC spends on transporting road debris to dumping yards.

It doesn’t take rocket science to understand how Ambekar knows so much about the richest civic body of the country. Coming directly from the horse’s mouth, these revelations were bound to be reliable, and Mehta took it seriously and acted without any further delay. The civic commissioner, who himself is on a clean-up mission in the BMC and has found similar malpractices in other departments, promptly issued guidelines to tackle this issue. Effective since October 1, vehicle tracking systems have been made compulsory for transport contractors, and violations will invite penal action and blacklisting.

While we praise first-time corporator Ambekar for her act of whistle-blowing, her own party, the Shiv Sena, is upset. Sources say that she may be replaced with another woman from a scheduled caste (the post is reserved for this category). The party believes that Ambekar has landed it in a big political mess ahead of the Kalyan-Dombivli municipal polls, where its ruling partner in Mumbai, State and Centre, has already made things difficult. Senior BJP leaders like CM Devendra Fadnavis, Vinod Tawde and Sudhir Mungantiwar did not shy away from casting aspersions on the Sena’s ability to manage cash-rich civic bodies if the party is re-elected there. The BJP is working on a similar anti-Sena agenda in the BMC, which will go to polls in February 2017.

We understand that Monday’s general meeting in the BMC will showcase what the BJP has on its mind. It is expected that the BJP will make speeches thanking Ambekar, however, with the sole purpose of chiding the Sena. The Congress and Samajwadi Party are expected to do the same. However, it would be interesting to watch the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena’s (MNS) actions, as a section in the Sena is in favour of joining hands with the party, if the decision is taken to elect a new Mayor.

Ambekar, who has denied any role, presumably under pressure from her party, in the ‘letter-writing’ business, is now in the dock. She has been accused of playing into the hands of disgruntled contractors who were denied projects from the Road department.

Questions were also raised about the ex-LIC employee’s knowledge of languages, and why the letter — signed by Ambekar — was drafted in chaste English, in violation of rules that strictly state Marathi is the official language. In the aftermath, a secretary in the mayor’s office was made the scapegoat and transferred immediately.

We may not have evidence to prove Ambekar’s role as yet, but the letter has given us enough dope to understand the ‘percentage raaj’ in the Sena-led BMC. Let’s see how the Mayor handles the imminent threat of removal, issued by her party seniors.

The writer is Political Editor of mid-day

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