Thursday, January 01, 2009

2009 - The Year of the Mumbaikar

The Congress has ruled Maharashtra for a decade now, with the last five years being shared with Sharad Pawar's Nationalist Congress Party (NCP). The general impression is that they haven't done anything for Mumbai - a view that's quite obvious and perhaps glaring when one looks at how much Delhi has achieved under the same political party in the last decade.

However, to be fair to the Congress, the last couple of years has probably seen more infrastructure progress in Mumbai than any other year in the past. Phase 1 of the Mumbai Metro, the Bandra Sea Link and the MMRDA's various initiatives under the Mumbai Urban Transport Project have all happened in the Congress-NCP tenure. These are clear visible projects that can be seen on the ground, unlike, say, ambitious stuff like the Haji Ali-Nariman Point Sea Link, Phase II of the Metro, etc. etc. - all of which are still on paper.

On the real estate side, the ULCRA was repealed and a housing policy was formulated. Sure, they did nothing for real estate prices or affordable housing but at least there is a move towards transparency in a sector known for it's notoriety. Add smaller projects like the skywalks and a slew of flyovers and one can at least say that the Congress-NCP has done more for Mumbai than the Shiv Sena Government of 1995-1999.

And then there was 26/11. And the deafening silence throughout the Raj Thackeray fiasco. The Congress-NCP Government deserves to be sacked in it's entirety for both these incidents. No Mumbaikar would want to see any politician from either of these parties hold office after their abject failure at the most basic issue - keeping Mumbai safe. What point is development and infrastructure when the city is no longer 'safe'?

Which makes this question the most important one for 2009. Who will you vote for in the Maharashtra State Elections to be held this year?

That is the biggest question for every Mumbaikar in this new year as the state goes to elections.

Here are some of my thoughts on the key political parties in Mumbai:

1. Congress-NCP: Currently, the Congress-NCP combine seems to be stable. The resignations post 26/11 seemed to indicate that the Sharad Pawar-Sonia Gandhi balance, even if it teetered (as was seen in the interminable delay in the choice of CM), ultimately found common ground. R. R. Patil's dismissal was met with Vilasrao's Deshmukh's ouster. And Narayan Rane was - hopefully - despatched to oblivion.

2. Shiv Sena + BSP?: A recent Mumbai Mirror article indicates that Shiv Sena could be tying up with Mayawati. If this is true it might prove one thing - Raj Thackeray has succeeded in spooking his ex-party, to the extent that it would even consider dumping the BJP. But then a lot has changed between the BJP-Sena after the tragic death of the BJP's Pramod Mahajan. While Rajnath Singh and Nitin Gadkari have done their bit to keep relations intact with Bal Thackeray, no one can predict what Senior Thackeray, or even Uddhav, will do. The 2007 BMC victory seems far away now after Raj Thackeray. So, one thing is sure - this is the make or break election for the Shiv Sena. In that situation would the Sena risk it's fortunes with Mayawati?

3. Can the BJP go it alone? The recent campaign featuring Poonam Mahajan (photo below) did not feature Shiv Sena at all.

The BJP hasn't gained anything from it's tie-up with the Sena in Maharashtra. What would it gain if it dumps the Sena and goes it alone? An image makeover for one. And more vote-share for another. But will it take that gamble? Remember, the BJP is gaining ground in states where it had no presence (Karnataka and J&K to name a few). So, would it be better off losing the election, but gaining votes and readying to take on the Congress more directly in the future? or sticking with a partner that has been seriously undermined?

4. Raj Thackeray: One hopes that he finds his place with Narayan Rane in the footnotes of Mumbai's history. Thankfully, the press is also giving him much lesser coverage. Yet, one cannot rule out some antics from him in this election year. Having turned public anger against the Congress and the Marathi Manoos attention from the Shiv Sena he achieved what he wanted. What next? Will he go it alone? For sure, any party that sides with him won't be winning any popularity.

5. Outsiders: Will ordinary Mumbaikars stand for elections? And win? I'm leaving this one open for now.

Politics makes for strange bedfellows. And as the state and general elections come closer in 2009, there will be many politicians jumping beds. Equations will change before they become stable.

I firmly believe that this will be the year of the Mumbaikar. The year in which he gets his say for the MPs he sends to the Parliament and the MLAs he elects in the State Assembly. After five long years, he gets his chance to talk. And this is the only time the politicians will listen.

I hope he thinks for a long time before he chooses his vote. But more than that I hope he votes. This is the one moment when one small dot on his finger changes the fate of his city for the next five years.