Dear Mr Thackeray,
Belated Congratulations! Now that you are officially elected president of your esteemed party I think it is an opportune time to put your house in order, give your party a new thrust and direction, and tackle dissensions within. To be sure, it is your duty to tackle your party’s problem first, but I am sure you will agree that a political party derives its strength from what it can do for its constituency. Hence, I would request you to focus on improving the lives of Mumbaikars qualitatively.
As for putting the house in order, I feel you could take lessons from Ratan Tata who paid a condolence visit to Matoshree some time back. When JRD Tata handed over the reins of the Tata Group to Ratan Tata in 1991 he faced big-time resistance from satraps like Russi Mody, Darbari Seth, and Ajit Kerkar. None of these people were willing to accept Ratan Tata as their leader as they felt he was too young at 54. It was a hostile environment. But as a good leader he converted adversity into opportunity, formed a new band of people around him while at the same time checkmating these satraps legally. Seeing the fall of these mighty satraps, one-by-one, other senior managers within the Tata group fell in line.
Today, looking at the Indica car, the Titan watch and acquisitions abroad like Corus Steel, Jaguar Land Rover, and Tetley Tea one can truly say Ratan Tata is in the same league as the group’s founder Jamsetjee Tata. Sure, he lost some precious years fighting forces within but in the end Ratan Tata did come out a winner.
The point I am trying to make is that internal squabbles or dissensions are endemic to Indian culture. Ramayana and Mahabharata are classic examples. Similarly, in today’s world we have seen scores of business families splitting and so have political parties. Wherever there is money or power there is always a fight for a share of the spoils.
In your party’s case, if I may recall, the dissension started in the mid-seventies, albeit on small scale, with Bandu Shingre from Lal Bagh. A few years later we saw heavyweights like Ganesh Naik, Chhagan Bhujbul, Narayan Rane, Sanjay Nirupam and your cousin Raj Thackeray leaving the fold. In India, it is quite natural to see individuals leaving organisations for better prospects or in a huff. Churning is good for the party. It makes organizations leaner, meaner; gives rise to a newer lot who are talented and brimming with ideas. Importantly, this new crop, since they come with an open-mind, will readily accept you as a leader, work passionately around your goals, vision and beliefs. And, if you want to shape Shiv Sena in a different way in sync with changed times, this is ideal.
So, I feel time has come to tell Sainiks who are questioning your authority to ‘fall in line or else…’ Such diktats will at one stroke signal that you mean business.
Now, coming to the real purpose for writing this letter: Mumbai. It is deteriorating and degenerating on all fronts. I strongly feel a party like yours, with a very strong base in the city, can work wonders to transform this city. Though aiming for Shanghai would be lofty but planning for a Mumbai that is more livable and likeable is doable. In other words, if you can convert the old Sena slogan “Sundar Mumbai, Swach Mumbai, Harit Mumbai” into reality, you would have transformed Mumbai.
Yes, we do hear successive BMC chiefs talking about Mumbai’s problems annually but nothing happens. What we need is sustained round-the-year pressure on some of the problems listed below. I have a few suggestions for you.
1. Regularise hawkers, they are Mumbai’s lifeline: I believe there are over three lakh unauthorised hawkers in Mumbai out of which only 8,000 are licensed. We need to stop mindless raids and mockery by the BMC on hawkers. An effective way would be to earmark a permanent place for these hawkers in every ward of Mumbai. We need proper hawker zones. These shops could be given a uniform design, name plate and size. This will ensure that the footpath is available for Mumbaikars to walk to the station or elsewhere. Today, one has to almost take permissions from hawkers to walk on the footpath.
2. Road conditions, flyovers, house-keeping: Road conditions in most stretches range from okay to pathetic. There are no excellent roads in Mumbai, save for some bits of Marine Drive or the Mumbai-Pune Expressway. The conditions of most roads are deplorable during monsoon. Can Mumbaikars have well-paved roads for all seasons? It will save fuel, travel time. We also need to find a scientific way to manage Mumbai’s traffic jams.
Of course, one also needs to look at the house-keeping part of roads and flyovers. Flyovers in terms of housekeeping are an eyesore, and especially the spaces below the flyovers. The flyovers could do well with a coat of paint regularly and touch of greenery. The sub-text to this is water logging during rainy season. That needs to be permanently addressed. If I can recall, you were the only politician to visit the Mithi river to find some permanent solution.
3. Garbage menace: At every street corner, every lane there are heaps and heaps of garbage lying scattered. For a megapolis like Mumbai the collection should be done twice a day in public places. Not only does this leave a stink, but it gives a dirty picture of the city to tourists, not to speak of creating a perennial health hazard.
4. Water: This is a problem for most slums. But ironically even residential buildings have to rely on tanker water. The irony is that tankers are supplying municipal water. So can we find a way out to ensure that municipal water is directly distributed to these people?
5. Slums and chawls: A quick darshan of Mumbai clearly shows that 50 percent of the population stays in slums and shanties. And the view from the aircraft is very depressing. We need to work out a plan to change this picture.
6. Improve the hygiene in BMC hospitals: A casual visit to any BMC-run hospital is horrifying. It stinks like hell. The housekeeping and cleanliness are pathetic. That itself could give rise to a host of diseases. To top it all, the experience of the general public during any emergency is a nightmare. Given the high cost of healthcare today these municipal hospitals, which are well-equipped, could really help middle class families.
7. Pollution menace: The air we breathe is becoming increasingly unsafe. Most city doctors do say that respiratory problems are very high and this is becoming a big health menace. How do we tackle this one? Automobile pollution is one culprit. There is a garbage dumping ground in Deonar which releases gas in the night that creates a health hazard. Also, this city has some factories like RCF. Time to do something about all these issues.
8. We need to stop the ugly sight of people defecating and using public spaces for urinating: We see them on railway tracks, highways, narrow alleys or playgrounds. It is a very ugly spectacle. We need to find a permanent solution to this sensitive issue. Whether a joint venture with Sulabh Shauchalaya will help or the PPP model will work better, I am not sure. Incidentally, only 9-10 percent of Bangladesh is without toilets. One could make it mandatory that all houses given to BPL families or low income groups should have “self-contained toilet facilities”. Incidentally, there are no rest rooms for women in this city.
9. Hoardings and posters: It has become a regular feature to deface the city’s landscape by plastering hoardings and posters announcing the birthdays of leaders, or for festival greetings to citizens. This is done by all political parties. Can we aesthetically solve this problem by creating digital walls or earmarking certain spots for such messaging – for a fee of course. We need to stop this poster-plastering-menace; it is really making the city more ugly.
10. Taxis, autos outside airports or railway stations: It is never a good experience for anyone of us to get taxis or autos easily outside the airport or railway stations. How do we change this?
Well, these are the issues that touch and affect Mumbaikars on an everyday basis. What I have listed above are the ones aired by people across all strata of society. Yes, I agree, it is almost like a blueprint to transform Mumbai and that you don’t have a magic wand to solve these problems overnight. But a beginning can be made. My firm belief is you have a very strong organisation – shakas, corporators, MLAs, loyal band of sainiks – who, if you give the clarion call, can do your bidding. Mumbai can be transformed and your slogan ‘Me Mumbaikar’ could well become a reality.
(The author is Editor – Special Projects, CNBC TV18)