SENIOR Shiv Sena leader and Lok Sabha MP from the Mumbai North-West constituency, Gajanan Kirtikar, is a veteran politician and Sena insider. Recently in the news amid a spat between the Sena and the Bharatiya Janata Party with both parties seeking credit for the decision to name the newly inaugurated suburban railway station Ram Mandir.
Recently, there was a credit war between Sena and BJP over the naming of Oshiwara railway station as Ram Mandir station. Is the BJP trying to politicise a name that was based purely on locals’ demands?
The railway station work was delayed for some time due to a delay in rehabilitating 1,150 hutments for a flyover. I raised the issue and the work of flyover was completed. When it came to making the station operational, the issue of naming it after the local Ram temple came up. Ram Mandir Road is well-known in my constituency. It is a 200-year-old Ram Mandir. It is also there in all government records such as revenue, post office, BMC, etc. Since I am Hindutvavadi, I always thought of giving the name to the station. So, when I approached the railway minister with the proposal, he told me it is with the home minister. So I asked him to give a recommendation letter. After that, I went to Rajnathji, who laughed after seeing the name as he seems to have thought of Ram Mandir in Ayodhya. He asked me to bring recommendation letters from the local body and the state government, which was done. In all, it took around 6-7 months for the process.
When BJP minister Vidya Thakur got to know about it, then she put up hoardings and distributed pamphlets to take credit for it. We have been seeing that the BJP grabs works that will give them popularity. By and large, the BJP has a bad attitude. They have nothing to do with Hindutva. For example, the BJP does not have candidates in all 227 wards. They are importing candidates from all parties, who lost the civic polls in 2012. They want to increase their tally in the local bodies while keeping aside principles and Hindutva. It was evident in the municipal council polls. That’s why Modi could say during the Shivaji memorial bhumipoojan that despite the note ban, Maharashtra has voted for the BJP.
There are a large number of Gujaratis and north Indians in your Lok Sabha constituency. What is your action plan to woo them for the corporator wards?
Sena has set up the ‘Uttar Bhartiya Ekta Manch’ and many people have been working with us. We have been helping a large number of people from North India in slums. We have also organised three bati-chokha programmes. I tell them ‘Dekho mai Modiji jaise man ki baat nahi karta hun, meri dil ki baat karta hun. (Unlike Modi I don’t speak my mind, I speak from my heart). I say I am Uddhav Thackeray’s representative, I tell them they have left their families and land to come to Mumbai to earn, that the local Marathi-speaking natives are their big brothers. To look after them like our younger brothers is our duty and we will do it.
But I have doubts on how much this will translate into votes. There are many such programmes organised by Ganesh Mandals and Navratra Mandals.
As an MP, many people come to me seeking financial help from the PM Relief Fund and others. I have brought Rs 80 lakh from the Centre for various health treatments and most of the beneficiaries are north Indians. Many of them also come to me for railway reservations. Now, many Gujarati, north Indians, Muslims are officebearers in the party.
In the changing political scenario especially after the 2014 elections, do you think the Marathi community is no longer key to Mumbai’s politics?
It’s true. If we keep harping on Marathi, it will not work. Besides Marathi, Gujarati and north Indians, two important communities, are essential parts of Mumbai and to an extent the Dalit community as well. All the political parties are emphasising on this to give equal respect to all. They need security, respect and help for their issues and that is why they are attracted towards us. For example, I was elected by just 9,000 votes in the 1990 Assembly polls from Malad, dominated by north Indians, defeating north Indian leader Chandrakant Tripathi. After seeing my work over five years, I was re-elected by 73,000 votes.
But, Marathi people will continue to be the core of the Sena. There was a time when Marathi people and the language were not given respect in Mumbai, but that phase is now over. Marathi people have been getting respect and their rights. This change happened due to the Sena. But we cannot win elections on that. After all, social service is more important. And we are helping all those who are coming to us irrespective of their caste and community.
The BJP is planning to contest the polls on a plank of transparency and development. Has the Shiv Sena planned a counter agenda?
We have been ruling the BMC for two decades with the development agenda. During the 1995 Shiv Sena-led government, though credit is given to Nitin Gadkari for construction of 55 flyovers in the city, Manohar Joshi was the chief minister then. We have brought changes in the education system such as virtual classrooms and tablet computers. We have beautified around 600 recreational grounds in the city. It is a conspiracy to say that only the BJP can do development and Sena can’t. About transparency, the entire tender process is being carried out by an IAS officer. It is never carried out based on suggestions or signatures by political leaders.
The BJP has been continuously attacking the Sena over corruption in the BMC. Do you think the weak leadership of the Sena in the BMC has failed to counter them and has damaged the Sena?
The Sena and the BJP are equal partners in the BMC. Since our numbers are more, the mayor is from the Sena but the deputy mayor is from the BJP. While the standing committee is headed by the Sena, the improvements committee is with the BJP. Ahead of the polls, the BJP is just trying to show that the Sena alone runs the BMC.
It’s true that there is a leadership void in the Sena in the BMC. But they are gradually learning. Though they are not able to match the experienced leaders, the Sena leaders in the BMC have been talking up various issues.
Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis indicated that an alliance with the Sena for the BMC polls will be on their conditions. What are your party’s conditions?
BJP dictating terms to us will not be accepted. We know how to run a corruption-free government and maintain transparency. After many scandals during UPA’s regime, Modi emerged as a promising face and people voted for him. It does not mean that people have voted for the BJP. They don’t have that maturity and people will be disillusioned soon.
How will your party workers counter rebels and work against the ally’s candidate if an alliance is formed?
We are doubtful about the BJP as they are known for such tactics and we have experienced it in the past. They will form an alliance but their party workers will be fielded as rebels with tacit support from the party. Such things will not happen from Sena.