OffStumped For All Things Right of Center, Bringing a Right of Centre Reality Check to Indian Politics, News Media Reporting and Opinion now in Hindi अब आप के लिये हिंदी मे.

Shiv Sena chief Bal Thackeray will make a last ditch effort Sunday to woo Mumbai’s voters for a yet another chance for Sena-Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) combine to be voted back to power in the country’s largest or rather richest municipal corporation the Brihan Mumbai  Municipal Corporation or BMC. The much-awaited joint public meeting of Shiv Sena supremo Bal Thackeray will also feature Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi. While the run up to the election has had the usual seat sharing drama with Sharad Pawar’s NCP going it alone against the Congress. With high profile Sena defections to the Congress and NCP the Sena is on the backfoot but all speculation is on who many are calling the man to watch out for in Maharashtra in the next couple of years Raj Thackeray, the estranged nephew of Shiv Sena chief Bal Thackeray who’s Maharashtra Nava Nirman Sena is all set to play spoil sport.

The politics of the BMC elections have typically been marred by parochial rhetoric that has sought to protect the interests of the Maharashtrian in the face of alleged influx of outsiders from North and South India. This election season has been no exception with the Hema Malini episode starting with alleged remarks asking North Indians to leave Mumbai if they were unhappy and ending with the usual “media misinterpreted my remarks” apology.

Offstumped has however been most distressed that the single most defining issue of security for the Mumbaikar in the aftermath of the 7-11 commuter train serial bomb blasts has been a mere blip in the run up to the BMC elections.

While law enforcement and internal security continues to be under the purview of the State Government one would have expected in the aftermath of 7-11 a concerted campaign to lobby for Mumbai Police to be accountable directly to the people of Mumbai rather than the bureaucracy of the state of Maharashtra. But there has hardly been a murmur in this direction from the mainstream political parties. Given its size, financial muscle and significance as the nation’s financial capital paralleling New York City and London, one would have hoped for Mumbai to set an example for the rest of the nation to emulate by making Law Enforcement directly accountable to the local community but it looks like 2007 BMC polls may very well be an opportunity lost. Especially in light of the recent serial killings in Nithari one would have expected a serious debate on the kind of law enforcement and criminal justice our cities should have and on why they should not be brought within the ambit of the Municipal Corporation and made accountable directly to the local community.

A welcome exception to the mostly cliched political themes dominating the Mumbai elections is the Vote Mumbai effort http://www.votemumbai.org/ which is an offshoot of Jayaprakash Narayan’s Lok Satta. Elaborating on the non-existence of local governance in the Mumbai – for the people, by the people, Vote Mumbai points out that there is one elected representative for every 66000 Mumbaikars. The statistics quoted by Vote Mumbai are even more damning – Mumbai accounts for 16% of income tax collections and 35% of corporate tax collection in the country, 25% of the State’s income at current prices etc, its annual budget is 6183 crores (almost as much as some small states). Vote Mumbai further points out how and why the governance of the City of Mumbai is not accountable to the people of Mumbai. The BMC Commissioner is a State Government appointed bureaurcrat while the Mayor who is elected by the people of Mumbai holds a largely ceremonial position. The elected Corporation has only deliberative powers for policy making but no say in execution or planning. Thus the elected representatives of the people of Mumbai are powerless and at the mercy of the State Government controlled bureaucracy.

This folks is at the root of all ills of our great cities.  So while the BJP’s Narendra Modi is all set to lionise the crowds in Mumbai he would do very well to ponder on this issue in much the same way cities in Gujarat like Surat have transformed themselves with greater autonomy to the local government.

Offstumped Bottomline: The governance of Mumbai must be truly for Mumbaikars by Mumbaikars. This is only possible if the city is freed from the clutches of the State Government controlled bureaucracy. True security to Mumbai will be delivered when law enforcement and local governance is directly accountable to the people of Mumbai. Offstumped fully endorses the recommendations of the Vote Mumbai initiative. Mumbai does not need another 7-11 wake up call to get is act together.

When BMC goes to polls, Mumbaikars must not forget 7-11 and must not forgive those who stand for status quo.

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