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‘BMC poll is BJP vs all other parties, we can’t afford less than 120 seats’

Senior BJP corporator in BMC and spokesperson of Maharashtra BJP Bhalchandra Shirsat, who has been behind the party's strategy in the corporation, spoke to Laxman Singh about the way forward for the BJP.

Written by Laxman Singh | Mumbai |
Updated: December 6, 2021 6:58:48 am
Bhalchandra Shirsat BJP corporator, BMC

With BMC polls due in February 2022, the BJP — the second-largest party in the corporation after Shiv Sena — faces the challenge of the civic polls that are considered a mid-term weather vane for the Assembly elections. Senior BJP corporator in BMC and spokesperson of Maharashtra BJP Bhalchandra Shirsat, who has been behind the party’s strategy in the corporation, spoke to Laxman Singh about the way forward for the BJP.

How prepared is the BJP for the BMC polls?

For the BJP, the agenda for all elections has been development. In the last five years, all our 82 corporators have worked for the development of their respective wards. In 2017, BJP lost about 40 seats with a margin of less than 500 votes. We are concentrating on those seats and the party is confident of winning them this time.

The BJP will get past 120 (119 seats for majority) seats in the election scheduled in 2022. We have no choice. We can’t afford to have less than 120 seats as this BMC election is BJP versus all other parties.

All Maha Vikas Aghadi (MVA) allies will support each other even though they have announced that they are not coming together in the polls. Even one seat less than the magical figure of the majority will hurt our dream as others are united. Our agenda will be good governance, transparency, and we are fighting for people. We are not going to ally with any other parties.

The BJP has been opposing the increase in number of wards and change in boundaries, but in 2017 the then BJP-Sena government led by Devendra Fadnavis had undertaken a similar exercise of delimitation?

Firstly, the decision of increasing nine seats in BMC was taken by the state government, not the Election Commission. The state government says that as per the census report of 2011, there was a population increase of 3.87 per cent. The final census report came in 2014 when the BJP was in power in the state. Then Chief Minister Devendra ji and our ally Shiv Sena decided not to increase the seats considering that the population rise was nominal.

For 2022 polls, to increase the seats, the census report of 2020 should have been taken into consideration. However, in the absence of that data, the MVA government used the old data of census 2011. This is fishy.

The same Sena did not insist on increasing the seats in 2017 though they were in power and had equal right to raise the issue. Now, in 2021, they have gone ahead with increasing the wards without any fresh census data just for political reasons. Sena is afraid and realises they would not be able to retain their seats from 2017.

Although they have support from MVA allies, Sena will not be able to cross the magic figure in the corporation. With increase in wards, Sena wants to change the ward boundaries in such a way that the BJP will be in trouble.

During the delimitation exercise of 227 electoral wards, the BMC (which is Sena-led) did mischief by changing the ward boundaries. We complained to the SEC about how the exercise was done by some private agency. Following the complaint, the Election Commission scrutinized the maps and found many errors. Sena realised they will not be able to break the wards of BJP strongholds, so they decided to increase nine wards to change boundaries of all wards.

What will be the BJP’s move against the decision of increasing wards?

We have filed a writ petition against the decision, and by this week it will come before the High Court for hearing. We will have our own argument before the court. There was no transparency in the process. In 2017, the entire exercise of ward delimitation was done four months ahead of elections and enough time was provided for public scrutiny. But that time there was no objection filed by Sena or Congress.

Suggestions and objections were invited and nothing was done hurriedly. The changes have been done with malafide intention.

What civic issues is the BJP taking up before the polls? After being an ally of Sena for 20 years, how will it convince people to vote for the party?

Across the city voters are fed up with Shiv Sena raj. Potholes, flooding, bad health services and massive corruption are key issues. More than Rs 21,000 crore was spent on roads in the last 20 years. Similarly, the flood issue has remained the same in the last two decades.

The latest example is negligence in Nair Hospital, where a four-month-old infant died due to lack of proper treatment. Health services need a revamp to ensure such incidents do not happen.

Over the last few years, the vote share of BJP has increased (in Assembly and Lok Sabha elections). People are trusting us and our development agenda. Devendra ji started work on metro lines. People realised our vision of development, which eventually benefitted us in 2017 and our seats were increased in BMC.

We were with Sena for 20 years (1997-2017). But being a small ally, neither did we participate nor contribute to the development because Sena was only interested in money and muscle. Our experience with Sena as a partner was very bad and we were not heard.

However, if you see the past record, even though we were part of a coalition in the corporation, BJP leaders raised their voices against the decisions of Sena that were not in the public interest.

The BJP has been raising many civic issues and alleged corruption in the corporation, but do you think the party failed to take these issues to the logical conclusion?

We are not an investigating agency but a political party. We are bringing issues in the public forum and from where concerned agencies can investigate. There are agencies like CAG, Vigilance department, CBI, who can investigate and come to a final conclusion. We can point out and bring forward irregularities. If there is no malpractice, then Sena leaders will come forward and discuss. But they are running away.

For example, recent issues of the penguin management contract and exchange of land between BMC and builder for proposed pumping station at Mahul, Sena did not allow us to register our vote of opposition and discussion. Why are they afraid?

If you see the records, we have been the real opposition in the corporation. The opposition leader Ravi Raja is a Sena-sponsored opposition leader. He is the namesake leader of the opposition. We have reached courts, lokayukta complaining about corruption in the BMC.

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