The newly-appointed Mumbai unit President of the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) Nawab Malik in a free-wheeling talk with Free Press Journal’s Political Editor Pramod Chunchuwar shares his views about his predecessor and the challenges that he is facing. He blames Sachin Ahir for NCP’s present plight. Similarly, he did not spare his own party leaders and blame them for neglecting to strengthen NCP in Mumbai, and resolves to make NCP as the ‘Voice of Mumbai’. Malik also criticised the state government for making homes unaffordable due to the imposition of various charges and taxes. He favours an alliance with MNS and hopes this will prevent a division of votes. Edited excerpts:
How will you infuse confidence among workers when the political situation is highly adverse after your defeat in the Lok Sabha election?
I am used to such conditions. I feel this is a very positive condition for me and my party. I joined politics to struggle for people’s issue. Often I was brutally beaten by the police during my student movement days. I love struggle and fighting for a purpose. The party has given me the reins at the right time.
What will be your priority as the newly-appointed Mumbai President?
Strengthening the organisation is my first priority. There is no NCP MLA in Mumbai to this day. NCP’s first MLA was elected in 1999. In 2004, we got four legislators. In 2009, we won three assembly seats. But in 2014, we could not win a single seat. Thus, our priority is to win at least four seats in the assembly elections.
How will you achieve this goal. What is your planning?
Two months after assuming the responsibility of the party, there are assembly elections. We are trying our best. But after the election, our priority will be how NCP will become Mumbaikar’s voice. Till date, there are numerous questions in Mumbai. But Mumbaikars have no voice to solve their problems. This is a very serious situation. Even the workers and leaders of the Congress do not go to work at the ground level. With such a vacuum, Mumbaikars do not have a voice. NCP is going to fill this vaccum. We will fight for all the key issues in Mumbai. If it is an issue of food available at ration shops, railways, GST, roads, BMC or MHADA, we will fight for these issues. We want to become the voice of Mumbai.
Have you finalised those four seats?
We have not yet finalised the seats. It will be decided only after the seat-sharing with Congress. There are many ticket seekers for Mumbai. In the past, we have won Vikhroli, Anushakti Nagar, Kurla and Worli constituencies.
Are you in favour of an alliance with the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena?
I will follow the decision of the party. But my personal opinion is that NCP should have an alliance with MNS. I had suggested this during the Lok Sabha elections too. This alliance will help to prevent a division of votes. I have not discussed this personally with any MNS leader. But I believe if we give seats to MNS where they are strong and we are not in a position to win, it will be mutually beneficial.
Despite being in power for 15 years, NCP did not grow in Mumbai. The traditional voters who vote for NCP in Maharashtra did not vote for the party in Mumbai. Have you analysed the reasons?
There are many reasons why our voters are with NCP in the villages and towns but not with us in Mumbai. We have been in power for 15 years, since the formation of NCP. Our leaders were more focused in their regions or constituencies in the rest of Maharashtra. They hold meetings to increase voting in their constituencies. But never did they appeal to their followers or voters residing in Mumbai to join NCP. They neglected NCP’s growth in Mumbai. Mumbai is a multilingual city. Every assembly segment in Mumbai or each ward also has a different kind of politics and electoral equations. In the past, those who led the party unit in Mumbai did not understand their responsibility. There are many burning issues beyond religion, caste, language and region. If we take up the key issues, I think Mumbaikars can come with us. Just because I am from this village or region, people from my area will not necessarily vote for me. Unless people believe that this candidate is my leader and they are fighting for me, they will not come with us. This is what we have been lacking in and now we are going to get it done.
There are two ways. You can give justice to the people when in power by taking good decisions. But when you are not in power, you can bring justice to the people through your struggle and create an atmosphere for the welfare of people.
Though Sachin Ahir got an opportunity at a young age and for a long time, it is blamed that he failed to strengthen the party. What is your opinion?
To encash an opportunity is that person’s choice. But what was his priority is important. He failed to grow his stature in politics. He could not expand his canvas. He failed to create a mass base behind him and the party. This might have happened due to his style of working. He may have decided something for his future. A politician should do politics for 24 hours. He or she cannot fix times to meet the people. A leader who conducts politics like an event management, he cannot survive for long in politics. Therefore, he might have created such a situation. We have to say that he is responsible for NCP’s present plight.
When you took charge as the NCP Mumbai unit chief, desertions were already on. Sachin Ahir has left. How do you react to this?
I do not want to comment on those leaders who left the party. But this will not destroy our party. This may weaken us. But this will vacate positions in our party. This will pave the way for the emergence of new leaders. The seeds will turn into a plant and will bear fruits one day.
BJP has strengthened itself in Mumbai. They have MLAs and MPs. But NCP has lost all elections. What is your opinion?
Both the Shiv Sena and BJP are conducting politics in the name of religion and they did benefit. But Congress or NCP leaders or their workers have not struggled for people's issues. Our party is also born from the Congress culture. In both parties, workers spend time standing at the doors of their leaders. If these workers had visited the doors of masses, the picture would have been different.
So, my point is if you give direction to workers by training them, we can witness a different result. The delimitation of the Mumbai Municipal Corporation has already taken place. The wards’ boundaries will not change now. If we do a proper planning and work, we believe there is a possibility of better results in the next municipal election.
The governance of Shiv Sena-BJP ruled BMC is pathetic. Media, politicians, activists and experts all criticize BMC’s functioning. But this poor performance is not being punished by voters in the election?
Leaders in Mumbai raise issues and then keep quiet. No leader or party does anything to take the issue to a logical end. So, to be frank, there is no politics in Mumbai without a “settlement” in the corruption. This has created the current mess in the city.
The dream of affordable housing is going beyond the reach of common man. What will you suggest to make them affordable?
This is a very big issue in Mumbai. The issue of rehabilitation and redevelopment of dilapidated buildings and chawls in Mumbai is very serious. Redevelopment projects have already been delayed. The residents of these projects are not getting rent from builders. Buildings are collapsing. Government blames the builders for unaffordable houses. But the real culprit is the government. The government is 60% partner in any housing project. The 60% of the total amount paid by a buyer to buy the flat goes directly to the government. If a 12,000 sqft house is sold, government charges and taxes are at least Rs6,000 per sqft.
It takes TDR money, gets a development charge and levies a Goods and Services Tax. Also, it charges a premium for open space or 0.33 Floor Space Index, registration and stamp duty. Redevelopment projects and slum rehabilitation have been stalled. These are the main reasons that make flats unaffordable. Instead of asking builders to lower their prices, the government should first reduce their charges and taxes. But the government only talks about affordable homes without taking any action from their side.
A committee of legislators for redevelopment of old buildings in suburban Mumbai and old cessed buildings in Mumbai was set up. But there is no progress on its implementation. What do you think?
This government only makes announcements. No sanctions or approvals are given without corruption. The report of Dinesh Afzalpurkar committee was tabled during Manohar Joshi’s government. We admit that even we could not start implementation of its recommendations. But we completed the process necessary to implement them. The new development plan is now ready. Like we give incentive FSI for the redevelopment of old buildings under the Development Control Rule (DCR) 33(7) in Island city in Mumbai, same incentives are now being applied under the new DCR 33 (7) (B). When the new DCR’s file came for approval, the BMC Commissioner sent it back to the state government for some clarification. The Chief Minister says that the government has delegated authorities to BMC and BMC sends the file back to the government. This transit of file causes a delay in projects. This delay of two to three years in various approvals for builders makes their projects unviable and increases their liability. The builder then defaults on giving rents to residents who have shifted from their building to make way for redevelopment.
The government is claiming now builders are getting online nods.Not a single file is cleared online. This is just an eyewash to get the money from the World Bank. Ease of doing business is just a hoax. If this is the case, why are files going to the CM’s office for clarifications.
The BMC Commissioner does not give any importance to elected representatives or Mayor too. Many times he send the files to Mantralaya. Then what is the use of having an elected municipal corporation?
The Mumbai Municipal Act has given almost all administrative power to the Commissioner. The Mayor and corporators have the power of accepting or rejecting resolutions proposed by the Commissioner. The Commissioner works under the instruction of the CM. Corporators cannot act or talk against the Commissioner as they may suffer non-cooperation from him. The CM claims that he does not interfere in BMC’s functioning, but the fact is that he runs the BMC through the Commissioner.
Don’t you think there should be an amendment in the Municipal Corporation Act to improve this situation?
The Act was amended by the Shiv Sena and BJP Govt during 1995 to 1999 and a Mayor in Council system was introduced. This gave power to the Mayor and elected corporators. But Mayor and corporators abused the freedom to such a level the same government scrapped it. BJP leader Gopal Shetty was the dy mayor in the Mayor in Council system. A corporator from Vikhroli misused the freedom with absolute corruption and the BJP-Shiv Sena govt looted the coffers of BMC. There was no control on their corruption due to the Mayor in Council system. With proper and stringent checks and balances, the Act again should be amended to fit the needs of the current scenario.