Elections for Brihanmumbai municipal corporation will be held in February. Sanjay Raut, leader of the ruling Shiv Sena party talks about preparations for the polls and other issues
Geetanjali Minhas | September 9, 2016 | Mumbai
Elections for Brihanmumbai municipal corporation, the country’s richest civic body, will be held in February. Sanjay Raut, leader of the ruling Shiv Sena party and executive editor of the party mouthpiece Saamna, spoke to Geetanjali Minhas on preparations for the polls and other issues. Excerpts:
What are your plans and preparations for the BMC elections?
BMC elections are very important for us. After Balasaheb [Bal Keshav Thackeray] founded Shiv Sena, the party started its innings with BMC elections. In fact, Mumbai and Thane municipal corporations are the party’s base. At more than Rs 37,000 crore, the Mumbai mahanagarpalika budget is higher than many other state [budgets] in the country. Sena is very strong on social issues like health, school admissions, education and family problems. These are solved at our ward-level ‘shakhas’. You will always see people at our shakhas as they feel confident about being heard. Sena has always been the number one party in BMC and we are confident of winning again and with a majority.
How serious is the challenge from Congress and NCP?
Congress and NCP never posed a challenge to us in Mumbai and in other cities. NCP has no presence in Mumbai. Congress may have a few pockets but this time it will have to struggle to save them.
How has your alliance with BJP been so far?
We have been allies for 25 years. There can be instances of difference of opinion but our alliance was not for power. It has always been an ideological one for Hindutva. Atal Bihari Vajpayee, Lal Krishna Advani and Balasaheb Thackeray were stalwarts. They shared the same thoughts and ideology. After BJP lost power and NDA constituents shunned it, it was Shiv Sena, JD-U and [Shiromani] Akali Dal which stuck to the alliance without interest in power. This happens as we shared ideology of Hindutva. We continue the alliance because we feel BJP will do something for it [Hindutva]. The slogan ‘Congress-mukt Bharat’ was coined by Balasaheb and for the same reason we can never ally with Congress-NCP.
There is speculation that Shiv Sena and BJP may not be together for the civic elections.
BJP and Shiv Sena have been allies for the last 25 years; it is the oldest alliance in the country. In fact, the NDA alliance had started from Maharashtra and was broken by BJP. Due to the Narendra Modi wave, BJP got more seats in the Lok Sabha elections in April-May 2014 and Vidhan Sabha elections five months thereafter, in October 2014. Yet, later in Bihar elections people did not vote for BJP. The same will happen in Maharashtra. Whether we ally with BJP or not, it does not make a difference. I believe that chief minister Devendra Fadnavis is keen on an alliance and understands the perils of going without Sena. But we are prepared to go solo on 227 seats in the BMC elections.
How would you evaluate your relationship with BJP today?
It is not an ideological alliance anymore but a practical one. No one has a majority in the Vidhan Sabha and we have fought against Congress. We want stability in the state and Congress should not benefit from our fight and for this reason we support BJP.
Uddhav Thackeray recently said that the country is divided between secularism and Hindutva. Do you agree?
If you walk over the chest of Hindus, the country will lose its identity. During partition there were two crore Muslims, whose number today stands at 20 crore. Mumbai and its surrounding areas alone have 40 lakh Muslims. India is called a secular nation but religion remains the basis of vote-bank politics. What is left of secularism then? Kashmir sees the maximum number of ‘Pakistan zindabad’ slogans. Is this a secular country?
What are Sena’s views on reservation?
There are economically weak people in all castes and communities. Reservation should take place within the caste. Majority of Muslims are poor and reservation will help uplift them. If you go to Uttar Pradesh, you will see there are many poor Muslims. Is women empowerment only for Hindu women and not for Muslim women? If reservation is only for a particular caste the country will be torn. We have always believed that we must have a uniform civil code. Law should be equal for all.
What are your views on dalit atrocities?
Do atrocities take place only on dalits in the country? Two girls were raped in Osmanabad district and Kopardi village in Maharashtra in the last two months. Why were these cases not politicised? Is it because these girls were not dalits? When atrocities are committed on dalits or Muslims, they become political issues. If you do caste-based politics, the country will split.
There is a feeling of religious intolerance in the country.
Shah Rukh Khan has been detained at the US airport not once but thrice. Have we done it? Despite being a Muslim, we have made him a superstar which means our country is secular. We have had great Muslim artists in films. This can only happen in our country and not in Pakistan. AR Antulay, the most secular person ever, was Maharashtra’s chief minister. Balasaheb always said that Maharashtra’s chief minster should be like Antulay Saheb. Sena has always been very secular and never differentiated on the basis of caste and religion.
How do you rate the performance of Modi’s initiatives like Swachh Bharat Mission and Make in India?
We welcome the announcements but we don’t want to speculate right now. We will review his progress card after five years. His intentions are good but it is not the job of a single man. It needs team work.
People are becoming sceptical and asking ‘Achchhe din kab ayenge’.
This was a desire and an election slogan. We have to give him more time. It will take 25 years for the achchhe din to come. Congress was not able to bring achchhe din in 25 years.
With the GST bill being passed, BMC will lose its '7,000 crore of octroi revenue. How much compensation do you expect from the government?
Whether it is excise tax, income tax or corporate tax, Mumbai gives more than '2 lakh crore revenue to the centre. We have requested the centre not to weaken Mumbai and the corporation. Being the financial capital of the country, Mumbai needs to be made stronger. Unlike many poor states which will benefit from GST, Maharashtra being a manufacturing state will suffer a loss along with Chennai and Bengaluru.
Do you support the demand for a separate state for Vidarbha?
Is Telangana working well? There is always a ruckus in parliament on the package given to Andhra Pradesh. Creating smaller states will only increase instability in the country. Most leaders in Maharashtra have been from Vidarbha region. From the longest serving chief minister Vasantrao Naik to Sudhakarrao Naik and Marotrao Kannamwar, and now Devendra Fadnavis. Even at the centre, the big portfolios are reserved for Vidarbha. PV Narasimha Rao fought elections from Ramtek. Who is stopping them from developing the region? It is part of the state.
Will Sena fight elections in other states?
We will fight elections in UP, Goa and Bihar this time. Earlier we did not want to expand outside Maharashtra since Balasaheb felt it would lead to vote splitting with BJP in UP, Nitish Kumar in Bihar and Akali Dal in Punjab.
How do you see the future of the Sena-BJP alliance?
We will welcome whoever wants to whole-heartedly ally with us. Otherwise we will go independent. For the last 50 years our party has stood its ground. Our stand is very clear. Balasaheb used to say, “We are not born for power, power is born for us.” Getting a few ministerial berths will not get us power. Power will start from where we sit.
(The interview appears in the September 1-15, 2016 issue of Governance Now)
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