WITH less than a year to go for THE elections to the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC), the Mumbai unit of the Congress party has made a sudden decision to change its leader in the civic body. While the party insisted on Friday that the move was merely to improve its performance in the corporation, where the leader of the Congress corporators is also Leader of Opposition, some leaders warned the move could lead to the loss of Marathi-speakers’ votes, as Devendra Amberkar is being replaced by Ghatkopar corporator Pravin Chheda, a Gujarati.
The Mumbai Congress submitted a letter to the mayor on Friday asking for permission to change the opposition leader. A formal announcement will be made next week, deferred after Friday’s general body meeting was adjourned owing to the death of former Lok Sabha speaker PA Sangama.
While ostensibly, Chheda has been brought in to give the party a more aggressive leader in the BMC ahead of the approaching polls, a section of leaders privately admitted that pressure from the road contractors’ lobby as infighting could have led to the move.
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Senior Congress leaders questioned the timing of the move to replace Amberkar.
“The contractors’ lobby seems to have played a role. Recently, former MP and senior Congress leader Gurudas Kamat wrote to the Lokayukta about cartelisation in road contracts. Subsequently, a report was sought by the Lokayukata. Yesterday, another senior Congress leader from Vidarbha raised the issue of road contract scams in the civic body. Mumbai Congress president Sanjay Nirupam was not even aware of the press conference addressed by the state leader. He was informed about it afterwards,” said a Congress leader.
Amberkar was present at the press conference by Vidarbha legislator Vijay Wadettiwar on Thursday.
Another Congress corporator said it may have been prudent to let Amberkar continue till the elections, as the party needs a Marathi face.
“We have a North Indian as Mumbai unit president. We must have a Marathi face at least in the BMC, to be able to take on the Shiv Sena and MNS,” he said.
That Nirupam and Chheda are both not originally Congressmen also rankles many — Nirupam joined the party after leaving Shiv Sena several years ago, while Chheda was with the BJP. “Giving important posts to outsiders is an injustice to loyal Congress workers,” the leader added. Chheda joined the Congress in January 2012.
Murmurs of infighting between the Kamat camp and Nirupam camp have begun.
Nirupam, however, denied any infighting. “The Congress is a secular party. Everyone should get a chance. Amberkar was appointed in 2013 for one year only. So, the issue was pending for some time,” Nirupam told The Indian Express.
Other Congress leaders said Chheda was the choice for his aggressive stand on issues, but also because the Congress does not have many alternatives. “We want an aggressive face ahead of BMC elections to improve our performance in the civic body, so that we can take on the Shiv Sena-BJP,” said a Congress MLA.