With no signs of a thaw between the principal actorsShiv Sena that won 84 BMC seats and BJP that followed with 82choosing Mumbai's mayor has become a tough task
Mumbai: Electing the First Citizen of Mumbai is promising to be a battle as messy as the one that preceded it—the battle for the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC).
The post of Mumbai mayor—the head of BMC—is a largely ceremonial one, elected by the 227 corporators who won last week’s polls. Administrative powers in BMC rest with the municipal commissioner, who is appointed by the state government. However, there’s a lot of prestige attached to the mayor’s post.
With no signs of a thaw between the principal actors—Shiv Sena that won 84 BMC seats and Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) that followed with 82—choosing Mumbai’s mayor has become a tough task.
In a way, the Congress party which won 31 seats, holds the key to mayoral election. Shiv Sena chief Uddhav Thackeray has sent feelers to the Congress to see if the latter could either support the Shiv Sena nominee, or at least abstain from the election. The BJP, however, has decided to wait and watch after chief minister Devendra Fadnavis categorically ruled out talking to Congress.
With NCP chief Sharad Pawar stating that his party was not in favour of a BJP mayor in Mumbai, BJP looks least likely to win the numbers game. Pawar also said the Shiv Sena was unlikely to withdraw support to the BJP government in Maharashtra.
Thackeray told newly elected Sena corporators on Saturday that the next Mumbai mayor will be from the Sena at any cost. After the meeting, Thackeray did not answer specific questions from reporters about Sena’s strategy to ensure victory for its mayoral candidate. Since the results on Thursday, three independent corporators have joined the Sena, taking its tally to 87. The party still needs 27 corporators to reach the simple majority of 114.
A new mayor has to be elected before 9 March. Sena leader Anil Parab told a Marathi news channel on Saturday that Congress was “not untouchable" and that the next mayor would be from the Sena at any cost.
While Mumbai Congress president Sanjay Nirupam, who has sent his resignation to the party high-command owning up responsibility for the Congress debacle, ruled out any association with BJP or Shiv Sena, the party’s Maharashtra’s unit president Ashok Chavan said the Sena should first pull out of the state government to show its intent. Senior Congress leader Gurudas Kamat said he had written a letter to Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi “objecting to the very idea of having talks with the Shiv Sena".
“There is no unanimity yet within the Congress party on this issue. It is a tricky call in the context of the Uttar Pradesh elections where our association with the Sena in Mumbai could harm us. But there is a section which feels that if we could ally with Samajwadi Party in Uttar Pradesh to keep BJP out, why not have a similar and tactical arrangement with the Sena only for the mayoral election so that the BJP is defeated," said a Congress leader who did not wish to be named.
A Sena leader, who requested anonymity, said the Congress party could abstain if it did not want to be seen as supporting Shiv Sena. “Congress has to see the pragmatic side of things. The city needs to have a mayor and the Congress does not have the numbers. Whether to continue supporting the government or not is not a decision linked to this issue," said this Sena leader.
But the Congress is not convinced even if the mayor election is held on 9 March, a day after the last phase of polls in Uttar Pradesh. “Even assuming that supporting Sena here in the mayoral election won’t affect us in UP, we are not sure of the Sena’s intent. We feel the Sena may not pull out of the state government even if we extend our support. In that case, the Sena will have its mayor and will also continue to sit in the government and the Congress party would look very stupid," said another Congress leader who did not wish to be named.