Free water for all slum-dwellers, regularisation of post-2000 slum homes, and janata darbars across Mumbai where ministers from the party will resolve grievances of the people. This is Congress’ blueprint for reconnecting with voters and reviving its fortunes in Mumbai ahead of the BMC polls next year.
After declaring its intent of contesting the BMC elections independently, the Mumbai Congress has drawn up a plan to regain its lost support base among voters. And to do so, it has opted for the “tried and tested” plan of wooing city’s slum voters with freebies.
Rolling out its first pre-election announcement, newly appointed Mumbai Congress president Ashok (Bhai) Jagtap told The Indian Express that the party will strive to provide free water supply to all slum households.
According to official records, every second person in Mumbai resides in a slum. As per the 2011 Census, around 52.07 lakh people, of the total Mumbai population of 1.21 crore, reside in slum colonies. With legal homes being unaffordable – a chronic issue in Mumbai – the number of slum residents has grown further in the past decade, sources said.
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“The BMC was obligated to provide water supply connections to slums up to 2000. But we are in 2021 now. Lakhs of new slums have sprung up since. In the absence of legalised water connections, these households are being exploited by the tanker mafia. Our demand is that every slum household, regardless on when it came up, should be given free water,” said Jagtap.
From hoisting the Congress flag in the BMC in an alliance with the Republican Party of India (Athawale) in 1992, the Congress slid to just 31 seats in 2017. It failed to open its account in Mumbai in two back-to-back Lok Sabha polls since 2014, while managing to win just four seats in the city in the 2019 Assembly polls. Congress’ decline has coincided with the rise of BJP, which rode Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s popularity to win 82 seats in the 2017 BMC polls.
The politically significant North Indian migrant Hindu vote, once a loyal support base of the Congress in Mumbai, has shifted almost entirely towards the BJP.
To stay politically relevant, the Congress now wants to woo the slum voter. Taking on BMC, controlled by ally Shiv Sena in the state government, Jagtap accused a section of civic officials of forging a nexus with the tanker mafia. “This nexus must be broken,” he said.
The party has also decided to push for regularisation of all slum households that have come up post January 2000. “The slum redevelopment plan must be reviewed,” said Jagtap.
For the middle class, the Congress has backed the proposal for a complete waiver of property tax for all houses of 500 sq ft or less. The BMC had passed a resolution to this effect before the 2019 Assembly polls, but is yet to implement it.
While Sena has indicated that it wants all Maha Vikas Aghadi constituents to contest the BMC polls in an alliance, Jagtap reiterated that the Mumbai Congress was firmly of the view that the party should go it alone. “After all, we have to do justice to the party’s cadre. Congress has workers across all 227 wards.”
Riddled with factionalism, the party has also decided to “restructure” its local unit. “We will ensure representation of every section,” said Jagtap.
Taking a leaf from AAP’s model in Delhi, the Congress has decided to hold a series of janata darbars across Mumbai, where ministers from the party will go to the people and attempt to resolve their grievances. “We are calling it Mantri Aaplya Dari (minister at your doorstep) initiative,” said Mumbai Congress’ working president Charan Singh Sapra.
Further, the party plans to conduct district-wise sammelans (gatherings) to enthuse its cadre. Jagtap said that he and other party leaders will go on padyatras in various wards to speak to the people. On the directives of the party high command, the party has formulated a 100-day action plan to gear up for the 2022 polls.
Both government and farmers need to re-evaluate their positions