Says the State had paid dearly for the party's lack of vision

The Shiv Sena had its eyes only on cash-rich Mumbai, while it was apathetic towards the concerns of the rest of Maharashtra. The people of the city as well as the State had paid a heavy price for the party's lack of vision, Union Agriculture Minister and Nationalist Congress Party chief Sharad Pawar said here on Thursday.

He was addressing a joint rally of the Congress and the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) workers ahead of the Mumbai corporation elections on February 16. The two parties are in alliance in Mumbai along with smaller Dalit parties for the civic polls.

Criticising the Sena, Mr. Pawar said, “The Sena says they want to come to power in the State. But in the recently-held zilla parishad elections, Sena leaders were not seen anywhere. They are only seen in Mumbai, which they regard as the goose that lays golden eggs. They are not bothered about anything else.”

Mumbai's supremacy in manufacturing, cloth trade, pharmaceutical industry, coastal trade and its position as the first stop for foreign visitors had been toppled.

“Once upon a time, 54 per cent of international visitors would first step into Mumbai. This rate has decreased. Cargo from the sea, came to the city first. Not anymore. Maharashtra and the country are affected because of those [Sena] who don't have the vision, who have not seen the changing face of the world, who do not step out of their homes. The city has become barren and defaced,” Mr. Pawar said.

Mumbai, he said, was not being able to reap the benefits of the Centre's welfare schemes.

Referring to Maharashtra Navnirman Sena Chief Raj Thackeray's statement on a television channel that financial irregularities in the Sena-ruled civic body were to the tune of Rs. 40,000 crore, Mr. Pawar remarked, “They are family. They know about these things better.”

The NCP chief also took on the Sena's partner Bharatiya Janata Party alluding to the recent scandal of its three Ministers watching porn on the mobile in the Karnataka Legislative Assembly. “The Assembly is a place where people's issues are raised ... but not to sit there and watch images of nude women. What should we think of the status of women in their States? Maharashtra will never accept them.”

Given that Mumbai's wealth was the fruit of the sweat and toil of people from all communities and religions, it was a city that needed to be nurtured, Mr. Pawar said.

International city

Maharashtra Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan said his vision was to make Mumbai an international city.

“If we have to make it an international city, attract investment and generate employment, then we have to provide good facilities. The State government will strive to develop the city to make it reach global standards.”

“Projects worth over Rs. one lakh relating to roads, transport, railways, housing and water supply have been proposed and are awaiting approval. With the sea link, coastal road, metro and mono rails and also making housing affordable, the State is doing its bit to improve facilities in Mumbai,” he said.

Mr. Chavan said the government would probe all the financial irregularities in the corporation and take strict action.

Mumbai was set to see a change of government after 16 years. India had given a chance to the Sena-BJP combine to govern at the Centre and in Maharashtra. But unhappy with their functioning, they voted them out. Mumbai would see a repeat of this, as casteist forces would be banished, he said.

Calling the Congress-NCP alliance “historic,” the Chief Minister said the purpose was to unite the secular votes and defeat the casteist and fundamentalist parties.

With civic issues as the key poll agenda, a Congress-NCP government in the corporation would ensure smoother links with the State and Centre, he said.

Despite the presence of political heavyweights from both the parties, the rally generated a lukewarm response with around 700 to 800 persons attending it.