Not long after the Shiv Sena criticised its alliance partner BJP for inducting leaders with criminal antecedents, the Uddhav Thackeray-led party is pinning its hopes on former Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) legislator Gilbert Mendonca for a win in the Mira Bhayander Municipal Corporation elections this weekend. Mendonca was recently in jail for nine months in a land grabbing case and was released on bail in May this year.
Considered one of Mira-Bhayander’s most influential political faces, Mendonca’s affidavit to the Election Commission ahead of the 2009 Assembly election listed pending criminal cases on allegations of attempt to murder, dacoity, cheating, forgery and others. However, his affidavit filed ahead of the 2014 election showed no pending cases.
Sources in the Sena said the party welcomed Mendonca after he received bail in May. He joined the Sena in June along with several corporators from the NCP, including his daughter Catlyn Pereira.
Speaking to The Indian Express, Mendonca said: “Nobody in the NCP bothered to inquire about me during my difficult times. So, what’s the point in staying in the NCP? The Sena helped me, and hence I have joined the party. The Sena will get a majority in the civic polls.”
Sena leaders have defended his entry into the party, saying he had been falsely implicated in cases. “He would not have won the elections if there had been criminal cases against him. He has never troubled the common residents of the twin city,” said Rajan Vichare, Shiv Sena MP from Thane.
Mendonca was put behind bars in July last year after a case was filed against him for allegedly creating forged paperwork in a case pertaining to a land-grab of a 108-acre plot in Thane.
The former legislator said he had been “misguided” by a few people , which led to the case. “Some people came to me with documents showing land on their name, but it turned out they had created fake documents. A false case was registered against me after these people gave different statements,” he said.
Fondly addressed as Sethji by his supporters, Mendonca has been in politics in Mira Bhayander for more than three decades. He started his career as a sarpanch in the Mira Bhayander area in 1978. He became president of the Mira Bhayander Municipal Council in 1990. In 2009, he was elected legislator from the Mira Bhayander Assembly constituency.
The leader said all the criminal cases against him, apart from the land grab, were registered before 1999. “The cases were registered due to a dispute with a person in the area. But I have been cleared of all charges. There has not been a single case against me since 1999,” Mendonca said.
Seen as a suburb with relatively affordable real estate, the population of the satellite towns of Mira Bhayander has grown exponentially in recent years. The area has seen a mushrooming of illegal construction in the past few decades, with widespread allegations of politicians and officials colluding in some of the irregularities.
“In the recent case of land grabbing, Mendonca paid Rs 10 crore from his pocket, but was still implicated falsely. He was deliberately put behind bars for several months due to the polls,” said a Sena leader.
The leader further said Mendonca has always taken all the communities together in the twin city. “He did not do politics based on communities or religion. He took people from all faiths with him. Considering his work for more than 30 years, he has a sizeable following in the area. So, with his entry, we hope to benefit on around 20 seats in Bhayander West, his stronghold. The Christian community too might support us,” explained the leader.
The Sena has also increased its tally from 14 corporators to 32 by inducting several corporators and leaders from other parties in the past few months, including Mendonca. It is now hoping to make inroads into the BJP bastion in the civic polls.
Polls on August 20
Elections to the 95-member Mira Bhayander Municipal Corporation will be held on August 20. One seat goes to the Congress unopposed, as the nominations of the BJP and the Sena candidates were rejected over caste certificate issues. The BJP has fielded candidates on 90 seats while four seats have been given to Ramdas Athawale-led Republican Party of India. The Sena has fielded candidates from all seats, the Congress from 75 and the NCP 67.