At 76, Gajanan Kirtikar is Shiv Sena’s seniormost sitting MP from Mumbai. A four-term MLA, Kirtikar was also a Cabinet minister in the previous Shiv Sena-BJP government. He speaks to Sandeep Ashar and Tabassum Barnagarwala on reasons for the bitterness between the saffron allies, Sena’s U-turn, support for Aarey car shed, and his latest challenger. Click here for more election news
In December 2018, Shiv Sena president Uddhav Thackeray mouths Congress’ jibe of ‘chowkidar chor hai’. Three months later, you’re back in NDA, seeking a second term for Modi.
Yes, there was bitterness. We (Sena) were raising some public issues that the BJP wasn’t paying any heed to. Also, while we didn’t complain when we’re allotted just one Cabinet berth despite having 18 members in the Lok Sabha, the bonhomie and the closeness we’re expecting from the BJP was missing.
Even after five years, it felt as if we weren’t a part of the government. As an MP, I’ve experienced this stepmotherly treatment first hand. We’re upset because they did not treat us properly.
Uddhavji has raised the issue of Ram Mandir construction, which remains incomplete. Farm loan waiver is still a concern. Ahead of Mumbai civic elections (2017), we had announced a full waiver of property tax for homes below 500 sq ft, but the government delayed clearing it.
So, how do you explain your party’s U-turn?
Our tie-up with the BJP spans over 30 years. Uddhavji forged the alliance to ensure Hindutva forces don’t split. As far as the voter is concerned — be it the Gujaratis, Marathis or Muslims, they always expected us to contest unitedly.
But how about the coordination between the two parties on ground?
Now that we have joined hands, we’ll be sticking together. The coordination locally is far better now. You can see BJP workers turning up in my office nowadays. This wasn’t the case previously.
Historically, Congress has done well on this seat. In 2014, you upset then sitting MP Gurudas Kamat. This time, you face a new challenger in Sanjay Nirupam. Some feel the Modi wave has receded. How does this affect you?
For a sitting MP, it is his performance that counts. Voters are aware of my performance. This is my strong point. There might be some anti-Modi sentiment among minorities, but I enjoy a lot of support among the Gujarati, Marwari, and Marathi voters. Besides, unlike the UPA, NDA hasn’t been embroiled in scams and corruption. People do not trust Congress.
The constituency has a sizeable Hindi-speaking population. How does the entry of a north Indian opponent change the election math?
While we’ve around 3 lakh north Indian voters and another 3 lakh Muslims, there are 6.6 lakh Marathi voters. Being a Bihari, he (Nirupam) might attract voters from the Hindi-speaking belt. But I’m well connected with even the Hindi-speaking voters. One must also not forget that Nirupam had hurt the sentiment of the Marathi speaking voters when he deserted Sena to join Congress. With MNS and AAP not in the race, I feel my chances are much better this time.
There has been a raging controversy over the construction over Metro car shed on Aarey land. Aaditya Thackeray has been spearheading the agitation against the construction. Where do you stand?
I’ve been in favour of the construction of the car shed in Aarey. It is necessary. Otherwise we won’t have a Metro Rail system.
What would you say was your biggest achievement?
I would say improvement of infrastructure and facilities to better the comfort of railway commuters from my constituency. To curb rail accidents, platform heights have been raised. Escalators have been installed at all stations. We’ve fitted 300 to 350 benches. A waiting room (for commuters) is being constructed at Andheri. Owing to our push, the work on the fifth and the sixth railway line is now on track. It has been included in the Phase III of the Mumbai Urban Transport Project, and Rs 1,100 crore has been allocated for it in 2019-20.
Redevelopment of slums and old buildings remains a niggling issue for many in the constituency.
The problem is that slum redevelopment is builder centric. It has fallen prey to an ugly nexus between builders, officials and chief promoters of slum societies. Slum residents often come to me with complaints. I do my best to resolve these issues. On policy initiatives, the state is formulating a new housing policy. We’ve been pushing for it to be unveiled. We’ve also demanded that slum redevelopment be allowed on encroached land owned by central government agencies.
For expediting redevelopment of old buildings, the government must provide additional incentives. Some residential societies in my constituency have received notices from the forest department on grounds that these stood on forest land. We’re opposing the notices.
What attempts have you made to woo Muslim support?
I’ve done development work in slums pockets dominated by the minorities. We’ve been listening to the community’s issues. There is long waiting list of those who wish to go for Haj pilgrimage. My office has been recommending names of several from my region. When Hamid Ansari’s parents approached me for help to get him released from Pakistan jail, I’d coordinated with External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj and with his lawyers, both in India and Pakistan. Our sole aim was to get him out of Pakistan.
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