Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis’ proposal to set up a committee for the country’s commercial capital – Mumbai city – led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, has created a political controversy in Maharashtra.  His statement in the state legislature evoked strong protest from NCP president Sharad Pawar, who raised objections describing it as an attack on the rights of the state government.

Pawar has written to the Prime Minister on the issue, strongly objecting to the proposed committee for Mumbai, saying that it strikes at state autonomy, reminding the PM that he has been a strong advocate of state autonomy. The proposal alters the equilibrium between the state and the union government relations, he asserts.

This letter is seen as an attack on the Chief Minister by the NCP, which has been lying low after the Shiv Sena joined the BJP Government in the state. The NCP is also uneasy with talk of inquiries against some of its prominent leaders for alleged corruption during their tenure as ministers in the previous Congress-NCP Government.

However, in his letter to the PM, Pawar has asked Modi how it is appropriate for the latter to head a committee for a particular city because as PM, he is responsible for the development of the entire country and has far more pressing issues like terrorism, financial deficit and other matters to grapple with.

He also reminded Modi that both of them, as chief ministers of Maharashtra and Gujarat respectively, had been following up projects with the union government very often, but had never sought the formation of such a committee led by a union government minister.

Mumbai is the proverbial golden goose for most political parties, which receive funding from the well-endowed corporate and realty sectors. The budget of the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) is much larger than that of several smaller states. In fact, Mumbai city is considered a state within the state and Maharashtra has a special place for Mumbai since it was retained as the capital of the state after intense agitation at the time of the foundation of the state, the  ‘Samyukta Maharashtra’ movement of the early 1960s. Any talk of altering the status of Mumbai city evokes a strong emotional reaction.

 Mumbai is also special for the Shiv Sena, which has been ruling the BMC for a long time and is always at loggerheads with the state government to protect the autonomy of the city’s administration. Pawar, in his letter has observed that several things have changed in the city and need urgent corrective measures, but a committee headed by the PM is no solution to these issues.

It was the UPA Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, who, on one of his visits to the city, announced his dream to convert Mumbai into a financial hub on the lines of Shanghai, China, which was a sleepy town before the 1990s and later on transformed into a financial hub, playing a great role in the economic development of China. Since this observation by Singh – the state, as well as the BMC, took many steps to launch massive make-overs for Mumbai. Several projects have been launched in the last decade, including the monorail, the development of the Bandra-Kurla hub, the linking of eastern and western suburbs, the opening of the Eastern Express Highway. At present, projects worth over Rs 95,000 crore are underway and while many others are still in the pipeline.

The BJP views Pawar’s letter as regular political manoeuvring, pressuring the chief minister. The BJP claimed that the proposed committee did not infringe on the rights of the state or even the BMC, since the committee is only for better coordination between the state and the union government so that there are no bottlenecks in clearing some urgent infrastructure projects. However, Pawar terms the committee as most impractical and undesirable and hopes that PM would desist from associating with such committees.

The Sena is obviously upset with the proposal, as it views the BMC and Mumbai as its reserve and would not like that position to change. Pawar’s reference to the BMC is aimed at provoking the Sena against the CM’s move towards the setting up of his proposed committee.

Also, Pawar has wondered why the CM would suddenly announce such an important decision in the House instead of a cabinet discussion first and then seek the PMO’s approval before making it public. He also sees a political ploy behind the CM’s move, as BMC elections are due in 2017.

The Sena too has stepped into controversy, expressing its caution against any such move, which may lead to handing over control of the city to Delhi. While it welcomes special efforts to develop major infrastructure projects in the city with the help of the PM, it would not like control over the city being passed on from the BMC and the state to the union government.

The Sena has been always very sensitive to any move which might suggest that Mumbai will be taken away from Maharashtra and turned into a union territory. Though it has used very mild words to express its concern, it is not  hard to read between the lines. The Sena mouthpiece, Saamana, hopes that there is no move to separate Mumbai from Maharashtra and hopes that the PM will also be asked to promote other bigger cities in the state, along with Mumbai.

 Prakash Bal Joshi

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