Stakes are high in the crucial elections to the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC), as all political parties are keen to take control of the civic body having an annual budget of Rs 21,096.56 crore, which is higher than some smaller states.
Shiv Sena-BJP alliance may have a tough time in retaining its 15-year supremacy, especially by weathering the anti-incumbency factor. Besides, the saffron alliance — which included the Republican Party of India (Athavale), a faction of dalit dominated party. as a partner — faces a challenge from the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS), which may dent its traditional vote bank, the marathi manoos. The MNS will contest all the 227 seats. The voting is slated for February 17.
On the other hand, the ruling Congress will contest 169 seats, leaving 58 seats to its ally, the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP). Congress-NCP see it as an opportunity to dislodge the saffron alliance and thereby snap the latter's lifeline. Congress-NCP believe that it they capture power in the civic body it would be easier for them to earmark additional funds both from the state and Central governments headed by the Congress-led UPA.
Congress and NCP are eager to repeat the victory of the alliance in the civic body as they did in the Assembly and parliamentary elections held in 2009. Both Congress and NCP, if elected, will have to take a call on the abolition of octroi (Rs 7,000 crore is mobilised annually), put BMC's finances on tract, steamline fund allocation for upgradation of infrastructure.
For chief minister Prithviraj Chavan, the civic body elections is important to position himself as a Congress chief minister who can take on saffron parties head on in Mumbai.
Besides, it would be an opportunity for Chavan, who is settling into electoral politics after assuming office in November 2010, to play a key role in charting out Congress’s plans to opt for a solo fight if the party crosses 100 seats out of the 169 it is contesting.
Chavan told Business Standard, "Congress and NCP have joined hands to dislodge the corrupt rule of the saffron combine. It is the desire of the Mumbaikars and we are confident to assume power in the civic body." He attacked the saffron alliance for indulging in rampant corruption and the present state of sorry affairs of the city.
For NCP, it is an effort to consolidate its position in Mumbai, where its presence is limited. In fect, NCP will use this opportunity to prepare its blueprint for the 2014 Assembly elections. Deputy chief minister Ajit Pawar, who flatly refused to have an electoral alliance with Congress in Pune and Pimpri Chinchwad civic bodies, pressed for seat sharing in Mumbai as he wants NCP to reach out to maximum Mumbaikars and later bargain for more seats for Assembly elections.
NCP veteran Chhagan Bhujbal, who was quite keen for his party's truck with Congress, said Mumbaikars wanted a change and Congress-NCP combine was ready to give that alternative in the larger interest of the city. He downplayed RPI's (Athavale) entry into the saffron alliance.
Shiv Sena executive president Uddhav Thackeray, who has launched a massive advertisement campaign showcasing the achievement of Sena-BJP rule in last five years, claimed that the Sena-BJP-RPI was a formidable alliance. He lambasted the Congress-NCP state government for not releasing funds to the civic body.
Curiously, MNS chief Raj Thackeray, who hogged the limelight for conducting tests to select party candidates, has appealed to voters to give his party a chance.