Online Service Delivery of BJP to Mumbaikars Will Trump the On-ground Hafta Khori Of Opponents In The BMC Election: Ashish Shelar
Digital India and state government initiatives to take governance to people’s doorsteps have reduced the need for large ground presence to serve citizens.
The election to Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) is just round the corner. In a nationally watched multi-cornered fight between the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), Shiv Sena, Congress, Nationalist Congress Party (NCP), Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS), All India Majlis-e-Ittahadul Muslimeen (AIMIM) and Samajwadi Party, BJP and Shiv Sena are favourites to win the highest number of seats. If either of them gets a full majority in the election, it will have repercussions on their long standing alliance in the state of Maharashtra and at the centre.
In the last two and a half years, Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis and BJP Mumbai president Ashish Shelar have worked hard to gain substantial popularity in Mumbai. The duo is looked upon as forward looking, pro-development and ambitious, working closely to create a strong party cadre and base. Under Fadnavis and Shelar, BJP has enjoyed good electoral fortunes in Mumbai and the installation of a BJP mayor in Mumbai will further cement their individual positions within the party and set the stage for their future career progression.
Ashish Shelar, the 45-year-old Mumbai BJP head, is a two-time BMC corporator and BMC party group leader. He is the sitting member of legislative assembly (MLA) from the Bandra West constituency. Along with Fadnavis, Shelar has led the BJP campaign for the BMC election. In a freewheeling conversation with Swarajya in Mumbai, just six days before BMC election, Shelar sounded confident of his campaign and BJP doing well in the election. He spoke unhesitatingly on a range of political issues.
Excerpts from the interview:
With less than a week to go for the BMC elections, how are you feeling about BJP's prospects?
We have been working hard for past weeks and months. The people of Mumbai have already made up their mind. They want holistic development. People have seen 15 years of Congress -NCP rule in the state and 20 years of Sena rule in BMC. They have also seen BJP-led state government approach to managing the state of Maharashtra. The contrast is quite stark. Keeping this in mind, we are hopeful and confident that voters will now choose BJP for the development of the city.
BJP has been contesting just about 65 seats in BMC election over the last 25 years. As a result, BJP's ground presence in a number of seats is very limited, albeit increasing post 2014. What is your plan to counter Shiv Sena's dense network of shakhas which has given it the edge in successive BMC elections?
We talk the language of online. Digital India and state government initiatives to take governance to people’s doorsteps have reduced the need for large ground presence to serve citizens. Earlier, people had to seek local help to get an ambulance. Today, they can call a 108 toll-free number and reliably get the same and in fact more efficient service. This kind of change demonstrates that the state government has used technology to institutionalise service delivery. We believe that people will choose this online service delivery of the BJP-led state government over the on-ground “hafta khori” of others.
BJP has made "transparency and change" as the key pitch for the BMC election. However, BJP corporators have been part of different BMC committees over the last 20 years and very much a part of the city administration. Why should Mumbaikars believe it will be different this time with BJP?
BJP’s fight against corruption in BMC is not new. We have been highlighting the corruption for past many years. If you go back over the last decade, you will see over 15 big instances where BJP has highlighted the corruption in BMC. I can highlight some examples:
The matter of paver blocks for roads, which became “favour” blocks for contractors was raised by our leader Bhalchandra Shirsat (two-time corporator and current BJP candidate from Ward Number 131), who was the chairman of the improvement committee of the BMC. We opposed using paver blocks many years ago.
In 2003, our then corporator and leader Gopal Shetty (MP from North Mumbai) had exposed the irregularities in alum supply for water purification.
I have personally opposed the deal wherein a builder was given lease for Re 1 in Crawford Market and worked hard to protect the heritage nature of the area.
I also exposed the corruption in the Knowledgeware ERP deal done by BMC.
So even while we were in the alliance, we have always raised our voice to expose and oppose corrupt practices in BMC. What has changed after 2014 is that under Fadnavis, this state government has taken a zero tolerance policy towards BMC corruption. Earlier, the Congress government was hand-in-glove with Shiv Sena and used to protect the Sena functionaries in the BMC and would not prosecute the corrupt contractors or those protecting them. Reason you see that our voice is louder now is because the Fadnavis government is acting against the corrupt, wherever there is a proof of wrongdoing. And this is exactly our commitment for the BMC.
BJP is contesting on 195 seats leaving 30 odd for alliance partners. In an election which is expected to be such a close contest, what’s the thought process on leaving so many seats for allies to be contested on their own symbol? While RPI-A has some presence, experience in 2014 assembly elections also shows, these allies can transfer votes to BJP but can't win seats on their own. Why didn't you get them to contest on your symbol?
We don’t believe that falling short of majority in the assembly election was due to allies not winning. Our allies helped us a lot in 2014 assembly elections and it’s unfortunate that they couldn’t win many seats. We believe in the spirit of partnership and keeping that spirit in mind we have arrived at the current seat arrangement. In the BMC election, we think our allies are well placed and they will have a good success rate.
In the 2012 BMC elections, BJP had adhered to a clear rule that none of the family members of party leaders will be given a ticket. Even candidates like Jyoti Alavani were denied a ticket and she had to contest as an Independent. What has changed this time around? Sons, brothers, wives - all have made an entry. Isn't this Congressisation of BJP bad for cadre morale and negative for party's longer-term prospects?
Our tickets are not given due to relations but because the candidate is capable, working for the party and a part of the political activist set up. My brother Vinod Shelar contested last time, not because he is my brother, but because he is an activist. Similarly Shailaja Girkar also contested in 2012, not because she is the wife of Bhai Girkar, but because she is an activist. Similarly, Neil Somaiya was given the ticket as he has been a party worker through Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP) and Bharatiya Janata Yuva Morcha (BJYM) for past 16 years.
If family members are working with the party, and when compared to other potential candidates, they are seen favourably, they will get tickets on merit. Relation is not the qualification for the ticket, but it can’t be a criterion for disqualification either. Out of 195, just a few tickets are to the relatives and even they are in their own right well-qualified. So this argument is wrong and without substance.
The Gujarati/Marwari community had overwhelmingly voted for BJP in Mumbai in 2014 Lok Sabha and assembly elections. However, demonetisation has invariably affected a lot of people in this community. Moreover, Shiv Sena and Congress have done an outreach to this community with BJP workers like Mangal Bhanushali and Janak Sanghvi crossing over to the Shiv Sena/Congress respectively. How will this dynamic affect BJP's prospects in the upcoming elections?
Demonetisation will in fact be beneficial for us. The event has set the stage for people to know who is with corruption and who is against corruption. That segregation has happened and people are watching it closely. Most of the people are against corruption, and those who are against corruption, will favour BJP. There is no doubt that people had to face inconvenience during the demonetisation process, but you also saw people who are fundamentally anti-corruption overwhelmingly support this move. We will definitely benefit and get support from all sections of the society. As far as the names you mentioned, they joined other parties because they didn’t get a BJP ticket to contest the election and the other parties offered it to them. They didn’t defect for the cause of traders or because of notebandi.
The election campaign has inevitably deteriorated into a slugfest with allegations and counter-allegations between BJP and Shiv Sena starting right at the top. If neither party is able to get close to a majority, would BJP-Shiv Sena come together to share power just like Kalyan Dombivili Municipal Corporation?
This question should be asked to the electorate as to why they give a fractured mandate. BJP is asking for a full majority and we are hopeful of a full majority. After this, if Mumbaikars choose to vote otherwise, it is they who have to decide.
You have been vocal in your views of Shiv Sena and Congress doing a "setting" in a bunch of seats to defeat BJP. How do you corroborate this claim? It is said that they are primarily working in your constituency (e.g. Ward Number 98) and Mumbai North Central in general. Which wards in your view are examples of this?
Congress and Sena are working together on 42 seats. In fact you can see posters today where the panja (hand) is sharing space with dhanushya-baan (bow-arrow). Shiv Sena was always used to be known as Vasant Sena (Shiv Sena was seen as creation of Congress Chief Minister Vasantrao Naik to counter the Communists in Mumbai). Now they like Manmohan over Modi. They like Prithviraj over Devendra. Even Congress is uncomfortable with this situation and they are trying to deny this. On 42 seats, they have a clear-cut understanding. And I feel these allegations have some truth to them. They are trying to divide Marathi and non-Marathi areas between them.
Shiv Sena has fielded a number of high profile candidates in this election. A few ex-MLAs, people who fought assembly elections, their Vibhag Pramukhs. Such high-profile people usually never fought corporation elections. The stakes seem really high for them.
Shiv Sena’s stake is high obviously. As soon as we spoke about transparent and corruption-free corporation, Sena went into ICU. Their corrupt practices are coming increasingly under the scanner. In fact, they have booked ICU in Lilavati Hospital! Our stakes are for the people of Mumbai.
Ashish Shelar has been the lucky mascot for Mumbai BJP with BJP winning every election since you became the City BJP Chief. What's next for you after BMC election? You were not made a minister in the state government despite the good performance in Mumbai. You also missed out on the post of State BJP Chief. It is said that you are perceived as a real threat by powerful person/persons within state BJP.
There is always a war between perception and reality. What you say is hype and perception. What I am doing is reality. The party has given me an important role where I am contented and happy.
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