For Maharashtra Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan, everything is at stake in the February 16 elections to the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation. In an informal chat in Mumbai, Mr. Chavan talks about the certainty of a Congress-Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) alliance victory — tempered with fears of a hung house — and the dreams of making the city more liveable. He rules out alliance with the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS) and says the fight is to oust a “fascist” party like the Shiv Sena from power in the corporation and streamline the development of Mumbai, which has stagnated under the previous rule. Excerpts:
You rate the alliance as a major success for the municipal corporation elections in Mumbai and four other places?
This time I had a discussion with the senior NCP leadership and the numbers were very clear. The division of secular votes had allowed the Shiv Sena to rule in Mumbai. It is a fascist party and the difficulties that fascist elements bring into the body politic of India and Maharashtra are there for all to see. We took a very conscious decision that we must avoid division of secular votes in order to oust the likes of the Sena and the BJP from the Mumbai Corporation, which is a very large body — 17 States have a budget smaller than Mumbai.
In the last election, the two parties had 132 seats. The logic for this time is the MNS would be slightly stronger and there would be a finer division of votes between the MNS and the Sena-BJP which is positive for us. The negative side is the Sena alliance with Ramdas Athavale, and the Dalit votes might get transferred to the Sena in some cases. But on balance, we are poised to win together very clearly.
What are your plans for Mumbai?
The principal strategy behind our alliance is to defeat communal forces. The entire sustenance of the Sena has been the Mumbai Corporation and obviously that money has come at the cost of citizens of Mumbai and while nobody can guarantee an absolutely corruption-free administration, a more coordinated approach between Delhi, State and corporation would certainly help. I have plans for a great Mumbai which will be fine-tuned and fed into the working of the municipal corporation. We have Rs. 1,00,035-crore projects which include ongoing, sanctioned and to be implemented.
What about dissensions in your own party between Gurudas Kamat and Kripa Shankar Singh?
The logic of power coming within the grasp is so strong that all these tendencies will disappear. People have been out of power in Mumbai for 16 long years, and five more years of Sena rule is just intolerable. When the situation is within the grasp, it's a question of just one more seat and you might be there. My real worry is there will be a hung situation. I don't think so but I have to be open about the possibility.
If you look at the logic of last time, where both of us got 132 seats, getting a majority of 114 (in a House of 227) will not be difficult and the survey reports also indicate that.
MNS is older and stronger now?
The MNS will be an important factor. There is space for the so-called Sena-like mindset. A finer division of votes between the Sena and the MNS helps us. Earlier, the Shiv Sena had a larger share of vote than the MNS. The question is if the MNS will take the NCP votes or the Sena votes — the percentage of votes I have seen shows that the MNS share has gone up but not enough to make them winners. The MNS vote percentage is higher and affects the Sena's vote.
However, Mr. Athavale joining the Sena alliance will be a negative factor. How many are motivated to support the Sena? I have doubts, but they will get a few votes. We also have a parallel alliance.
Why is the Congress quiet on hate speech?
I have told the law enforcement agencies to take whatever action is possible within the ambit of law. If there is hate politics, strict action will be taken. Our alliance is to remove this kind of hate politics. The larger logic of getting divisive politics out of Maharashtra is a very strong reason for the alliance.
You are aggressive on the Sena?
After the results, the Sena will become irrelevant. I mean no disrespect to anyone. The Congress has an agenda of inclusive politics, it is a national party. We are the only party which talks of that and it is misconstrued as pro-North Indian or pro-Muslim. Mumbai has been built by people from all the regions of the country who have added to the growth of the city. That doesn't mean local people should be discriminated against. The logic of migration is that the best and toughest come here and survive.