While politicians have set foot in Mumbai’s narrow lanes and dared to canvass for the BMC elections despite their many broken promises, the political narrative is being shaped by two men who are not directly accountable to the people of the city.
After the Shiv Sena released a manifesto that comprised the same promises it made in its previous term, Uddhav Thackeray has been making a singular point in all his speeches: all things good about the city’s governance is due to the Shiv Sena, and all things bad is because of the BJP.
He has called Fadnavis a CM of goons, criticised BJP (at state) for delayed projects, and quite humbly, announced that the Shiv Sena will win the BMC elections.
Though Fadnavis has to divide time between campaigning for Mumbai and other municipal corporations, he has managed to provide the Shiv Sena with some red meat. He compared Mumbai to Patna, called the Sena extortionists, and of course, claimed that BMC has benefited because of the state government, and not the city’s municipal corporation.
To the outsider, it may come as a surprise that Shiv Sena and BJP have, in coalition, been running, mostly ruining, the BMC for the past 20 years. They have exploited the convenience of alliance and now, the political mileage of enmity, without taking any responsibility for the mess in the city. In the run-up to the elections of India’s richest municipal corporation, the BMC, in less than 6 days, we are witnessing crude dynastic and personality politics.
Uddhav Thackeray has followed his father, Bal Thackeray in assuming that he is above politics. Bal often admitted that he ran the city through a remote control. The Thackerays have never contested elections (or held any public office) and have always slipped into a comfortable robe of a party president that doesn’t demand accountability.
Fadnavis, as Maharashtra’s CM, is the only lever of control in a city that, in absence of devolution of power, is run by the state. Neither Thackeray or Fadnavis will contest elections, but both are famed poster boys who will lure voters in on behalf of a system that has no accountability. A system that allows scores of politicians and bureaucrats to evade the public gaze and pull the wool over the eyes of the people.
The problem is not so much laggard political will but a style of governance that does not compel decentralisation, autonomy, or accountability. The BMC is run by a large and loose government operating on an Act passed by the British in 1888. While transparency, accountability, and citizen participation have been buzzwords, there is no one person who is accountable to steer the city out of its choppy waters. The mayor continues to be a mere figurehead. These power vacuums are exploited by bureaucrats and political parties at large.
On 21 February, Mumbai will not elect a mayor one can throw brickbats or garlands at, but a fleet of corporators whose powers, roles, responsibilities are ambiguous. Our elected representatives have to, much like us, go through BMC’s bureaucratic maze to get work done.
On 21 February, Mumbai’s votes will have no impact on the 1.1 lakh BMC employees who gobble away 60% of BMC’s Rs 37,052 crores budget in salaries and pensions alone. They operate in the security of a government job and are answerable to no one.
On 21 February, Mumbai’s votes will not affect the position of the Municipal Commissioner who is appointed by the State government and is answerable and accountable only to the CM
Most unfortunately, in the run-up to BMC elections 2017, an average Mumbaikar will be lured in by two politicians who merely adorn our TV screens and billboards with fascinating wordplay.
In fact, these two politicians are happy being beyond the purview of accountability. They prefer hoarding power and building castles in the air. The Shiv Sena’s promise of a 24X7 water supply or the BJP’s promise of good roads are mere placebos to calm Mumbaikars. To achieve any of the ambitious plans that politicians promise, Mumbai needs a directly-elected mayor, ample decentralisation, functional and fiscal autonomy, empowered elected representatives, and a smaller government with accountable bureaucrats.
Tangible change is impossible without systemic reforms. That’s exactly what political parties refrain from mentioning because systemic reforms would mean less power and shallower pockets for them. They try to appease their electorate by making perfunctory promises and not encouraging discourse on systemic reforms. Unfortunately, on 21 February, Mumbai will vote between the two politicians whose parties have exploited the city for over two decades and will continue to do so, in absence of a roaring civic voice.
The author works with Free A Billion, a socio-political start-up, in Mumbai.
Updated Date: Feb 16, 2017 14:55 PM