After a brief gap owing to the Covid-19 pandemic and a year ahead of the civic elections, the ally-turned-foes – the Shiv Sena and Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) – are again involved in a tussle, this time over the city’s infrastructure projects, which could delay the much-needed transport upgrade.
The big fight
The BJP, which came to power in the state in 2014 riding on the development plank, is not leaving any opportunity to show that the decisions of chief minister Uddhav Thackeray’s Maharashtra Vikas Aghadi (MVA) government – an alliance of the Shiv Sena, Congress and Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) – are anti-development, especially after the state’s decision to move the Metro car depot out of Aarey Milk Colony. The Thackerays and the Shiv Sena were invested in the ‘Save Aarey’ campaign and moving the car shed from the Aarey Milk Colony in Goregaon to save the wildlife and environment was one of the party’s poll promises.
Over the past few weeks, the BJP-led Centre and state have been engaged in a legal battle over the ownership of the 45-hectare Kanjurmarg plot, the state’s alternative to Aarey for the car shed. The Centre moved court, terming the city collector’s order to transfer land for Metro illegal. The Bombay high court stayed allotment of the Kanjurmarg land for the proposed integrated Metro car shed project.
In a tit-for-tat move, the Thackeray government then decided to carry out technical assessment to house the Metro depot on a plot in Bandra-Kurla Complex, which the state had given to the Centre for the bullet train project. Besides, Thackeray also met locals from Dahanu taluka in the neighbouring Palghar district, who are opposing the Centre’s Wadhawan port project, and expressed support for them.
Change in stance
Amid this, Thackeray, in a public address on Sunday, softened his stance and called for a dialogue with the Centre and the Opposition BJP over the Kanjurmarg plot for the “larger public good”.
Thackeray, in his address, said, “The unfortunate part is that the Centre has gone to court against the state about the Kanjurmarg land, saying it is a salt pan land. The state is only acting for the welfare of the city, and the Centre should do that too. These things can be sorted out through discussions…I am also ultimately a sevak of people, like PM Modi says he is pradhan sevak…You (the Centre) should serve the people instead of politicking and if you can’t do that you are not fit to be on the chair.”
Political observers said Thackeray’s overtures to the Centre could have been triggered after the BJP painted the Sena as anti-infrastructure development and called its decisions ego-driven. Former chief minister Devendra Fadnavis called the government’s move to look at BKC for car depot a “childish” idea.
After Thackeray’s appeal, the Opposition said it was willing to support the government, provided it gave up its insistence on Kanjurmarg land, as it would delay the Colaba-Bandra-Seepz Metro project by three years and escalate the project cost. Fadnavis said a government-appointed committee itself has ruled out Kanjurmarg plot and it must follow its recommendation.
“The project is at such a stage that changing [its plan] now will create issues. The Centre will fully cooperate… Today the CM said that in the future more space would be required [for Metro-3 depot in Aarey]. It is not so, the car shed has been designed considering maximum capacity of the corridor. The entire change should be kept aside and Mumbaikars must be given this Metro line this [coming] year. We are with the government; the chief minister should announce and finish the project. There is no question of any credit war. He should immediately take a decision and take full credit for it, we have no issue with it,” Fadnavis said.
Prep for polls
With an eye on the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) elections in February 2022, the BJP has begun work in Assembly segments and civic wards. The party had given a close fight to the Shiv Sena in the 2017 elections, bagging 82 seats in the 227-member BMC. After losing power in the state government, the BJP is expected to go strongly against the Sena to dislodge them from the BMC, where it has ruled for three decades. The BJP has the backing of non-Marathi, north Indian, and business-class voters and it could use the development agenda against the Sena’s Marathi manoos plank.
Political analyst Surendra Jondhale said the ongoing issue is a “clash of corporate interests” through the two political parties. He said, “It can’t be said that development will happen if the car depot is made in Aarey and not in Kanjurmarg. However, the BJP will take advantage of this confusion created by the Sena-led government. It may not be the main issue, but development agenda could run parallel for the BJP. The Shiv Sena or the government needs to educate people why they took the decision to move the car depot.”
He added that the BJP got “sensitive” after the government moved the car depot. “Aaditya Thackeray took a stand and stuck to it. The political leverage will be with the Shiv Sena,” Jondhale said.
The need for an additional mass transport system in Mumbai was identified in the early 2000s and action plans were drafted, chalking out a Metro network. In subsequent years, the city only has one 11.4-km functioning Metro corridor. With the construction of four Metro lines underway, it will still take a few years for Mumbai to fully recognise its dream of a Metro network.
AV Shenoy, transport expert, said the political fight is only worsening matters. “There are only two ways to resolve the tussle. Either the Supreme Court can give directives to sort it out in a time-bound manner, keeping public interest in mind, or the state and Centre could back down from their rigid stands and find a middle ground. Maybe Sharad Pawar could mediate between the two entities,” Shenoy said.
“People will not come out on the streets and put pressure. They may definitely show it in the civic elections. Ultimately, only people will suffer because of the fight,” said
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