India is seeing an increasing trend of Covid-19 patients over the past week. We are on the cusp of 2.5 lakh confirmed cases ( figures courtesy covid19india.org). Maharashtra with approx 83,000 cases makes up approximately 33% of all cases, though it makes up only 9% of the total population of India.
Even in Maharashtra urban areas like Mumbai, MMR region with Thane, Raigad and Palghar districts, Pune, Nagpur, Aurangabad and Solapur make up bulk of the cases in the state. Mumbai alone has 47,354 confirmed cases (as of 6th Jun 2020) viz. 57% of the cases within the state of Maharashtra and 19% of all the cases in India. While urban areas are expected to have more cases due to high population density, Mumbai has 10 times the cases as compared to it’s population percentage (Mumbai is less than 2% of India’s population).
BrihanMumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) is the richest municipal corporation in India. BMC’s yearly budget is more than that of several small states and it has about 50,000 – 60,000 crore of fixed deposits. Though BMC’s governance record has been patchy, their lackadasical performance has been severly exposed in this current pandemic situation. While individual BMC staffers have put their life on the line to protect the city, the bureaucratic leadership and the political leadership (Shiv Sena) of the BMC have failed miserably.
The Shiv Sena has now ruled the BMC for the last 25 years, a bulk of that in alliance with the BJP. But the BJP has been a minor partner in power and decision making, like the Sena claims to be during the Fadnavis government (2014-19). The BMC relateddecisions are mostly made from Matoshree (rather than the mayor bungalow), with current CM Uddhav Thackeray managing the affairs of the BMC for the last 15 years. Despite enormous resources at it’s disposal, the BMC has failed to provide even the basic amenties or infrastructure for the city, though there are some honourable exceptions like the hydraulics department of the BMC (which manages the water supply in the city).
When the COVID-19 pandemic hit India in mid-March, the BMC governance has gone from bad to worse. The misgovernance of the past 25 years has been exposed in the past two months. The proverbial chickens have come home to roost for the Sena. However much they employ Public Relations (PR) agencies or deploy their Penguin IT cell, covering up a disastrous performance is usually a very tough task. Following are five reasons why I feel the Sena should be shown the way out of power in the BMC in the 2022 elections,
- Dismal state of BMC run hospitals: The BMC has failed to build major hospitals in the last 25 years. Also maintenance of the existing hospitals like KEM, JJ, Sion hospital etc. (mostly built in pre-independance era) has been poor. The Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar municipal hospital in Kandivali has been among the few hospital renovated by the BMC, while the Balasaheb Thackeray Trauma centre in Jogeshwari is among the few built by the Sena in the last 25 years.
- Most of the ICU beds in the hospitals have been occupied due to COVID-19. Critical patients are not getting admission to hospitals and citizens have to run from pillar to post to get their near and dear admitted to hospitals. Many deaths could have been avoided if more isolation beds and ICU facilities had been created on time.
- BMC has failed to protect it’s own employees, who are combating the pandemic on the ground. BMC has been lax in providing PPE kits to it’s employees. Be it doctors, nurses and other medical staff serving COVID-19 patients in hospitals. Or other staffers working in hotspots like Dharavi. Employees were not provided sufficient protective gear nor tested for COVID-19 on time. This has resulted in deaths of many BMC employees (know such a case personally) while working in hotspots. Such COVID warriors deserve more than just a mere assurance of 50 lakh life insurance to be paid to their families in case of a COVID related death.
- BMC could have easily done more to ensure good health of it’s employees by adequately testing them and providing protective gear. Despite having considerable funds at it’s disposal and a web of social organizations/NGOs working with them, BMC has failed to protect it’s own employees, so what hope do the citizens of Mumbai have from the institution.
- Focussing on PR rather than actual work: The BMC as well as the Shiv Sena has focussed more on PR rather than actual ground work. There are a lot of examples of this in the last two months,
- BMC stopped the ward wise confirmed cases updates as soon as the figures started getting politically inconvenient for them. Once the cases started increasing in Worli, the constituency of Uddhav’s son Aditya; the BMC stopped publishing the ward wise numbers
- The 1000 bed temporary hospital in BKC seems to be built without proper application of mind. The impact of first rains on the temporary hospital shows that no thought was applied to the rampaging Mumbai monsoons which are already on us. Heavy rains in Mumbai can cause a deluge and a temporary hospital could be flooded. Was the hospital created as a PR tool to showcase that some action is taken by the govt of the day or was it to benefit contractors (with the fixed percentage cut to the BMC’s political bosses)? These questions could get louder if the temporary hospital stays unoccupied during the rains or the patients suffer due to heavy rains.
- The Best CM campaign on social media was a cruel joke on Mumbaikars and people of the state. Such campaigns work post facto or in cases where the city/ state is doing well. Doing such mindless stunts in the midst of a pandemic is in really bad taste.
Failure in providing facilities for essential supplies: There has been news of huge crowds in vegetable markets of Mumbai, throughout the lockdown. Social distancing was scarcely followed in the markets.
- The BMC did not try to convert open grounds into markets where social distancing could be maintained while buying vegetables. Many other municipalities did this experiment in the last two months, but not the BMC. If they did, it was not communicated well to the citizenry.
- The BMC was lax in facilitating online delivery of essential food and grocery items to households, through service providers like BigBasket, Amazon etc. This could have reduced the crowds in the markets and possibly stopped a lot of people from getting infected. A resource rich municipal corporation would be expected to do this much.
- Descpicable politics over migrant crisis: The politics done by the Shiv Sena (and other MVA partners) over the essential items to be provided to the workers or during the migration of workers, was despicable to say the least. The Sena brand of politics (largely adopted by the MNS now) was always based on creating hate for the other. The “other” changed from time to time, as per the political situation in Mumbai. I would say Mumbai as language wars do not exist outside the urban centres of the state.
- The migrant workers contribute to the state economy. This basic fact should have been taken care while providing essential supplies to them. That this was not done adequately came out in the voices raised by the migrants. If nothing else, humanity should have been the consideration to ensure that workers who are without their daily wages, were not starving.
- State government was late in doing anything for the migrants who were walking back home, after the first month of lockdown. ST buses were arranged at many places to take the migrant workers to the state borders, but the crucial first week of this exodus saw inaction by the state goverment and the BMC administration.
- The Sena politics over the shramik special trains were atrocious. They could not provide complete lists of migrant workers to the railways after claiming requirement of a particular number of trains, even though the registration and medical tests were done by the workers much earlier. Loud mouths like Raut played their usual dirty politics, where instead plain administrative efficiency would have helped. In fact, it could have helped the Sena expose the working of the railways (and the BJP led central government by proxy).
- Political arrogance of the Sena: The Sena has been the dominant party in the politics of Mumbai in the last 35 odd years. However, this position has been seriously challenged by the BJP in the election since 2014. Be it the Lok Sabha, Vidhan sabha or the municipal elections, the BJP has shown that it is the dominant party in the megapolis post the emergence of Modi at the national level. The Sena probably feared getting obliterated by it’s old ally and fell into Pawar’s trap.
- The Sena has so far ruled the BMC on the dint of charisma of Late Balasaheb Thackeray and many good leaders in the yesteryears. However now the leaders who make up Uddhav’s lieutenants in Mumbai are mostly fixers. It is rare to see a good Sena leader in Mumbai like Sunil Prabhu for example.
- The Sena survived in Mumbai mainly as the Congress was seen as an unviable option by the voters in Mumbai. The fear of the Congress ogre that facilitates illegal slums in Mumbai for votebank politics, made the voters ignore Sena’s “वर्गणी and खंडणी” politics. It helped that the BJP was the second fiddle and brought in the Gujarati speaking and Hindi speaking voters to the coalition.
- With the Congress rejected by the voters of Mumbai, the Sena faced it’s first challenge when they faced off with the BJP. I had predicted that the BJP would run the Sena close in the 2017 BMC polls. BJP actually was snapping at the heels of the Sena, by the time the final tally came. BJP is now a viable option to the Mumbaikars for the first time in last 25 years. The next BMC election is going to be tough for the Sena.
- In today’s India, the politics of development works. PR is needed to explain your achievements to the voters. But meaningless PR employed without any actual work on the ground, as employed by Aditya Thackeray and gang won’t yield much benefits to the Sena. Fadnavis as CM (2014-19) drew a big line by starting work on the path breaking metro rail network in Mumbai. The metro network upon commisioning, would take Mumbai to the next level. Uddhav has no other option but to draw a bigger line.
- Evoking regional pride (Sena’s calling card) or pointing to problems in other states like Gujarat, UP or Delhi won’t save him anymore. Pointing to the fact that the Rupani government failed in Ahmedabad cannot negate own failure in Mumbai and other urban areas of Maharashtra. The voters won’t be in a mood to excuse lacklustre performance, just because another government led by the BJP failed in other state. BMC election would be fought on hyperlocal issues of the city.
Even staunch BJP opponents agree that the Sena ruled BMC and MVA government has created a god awful mess in the state and especially in the city of Mumbai. Will the lower middle class (chawl and slum residing) vote bank of the Sena or the newly acquired muslim vote bank (courtesy alliance with the Congress) save the Sena or has the tipping point of the average Mumbaikar’s patience been reached? We will know in less than two years when Mumbai votes for the city government again in 2022.