Interview with the Mumbai leader: The Fadnavis govt has changed the discourse on development
Geetanjali Minhas | October 14, 2019 | Mumbai
Ashish Shelar, 47, was the president of the Mumbai city unit of the BJP, before he became the minister of school education, sports and youth welfare in the Maharashta government this year. He has represented the Vandre West constituency in the state assembly and seeking re-election. In a chat with Geetanjali Minhas of Governance Now, Shelar speaks about the issues dominating the election campaign.
What is your campaign agenda?
For the last five years I have been interacting with people every day. I have access to the voter on road, over phone, email and social media. As a common worker of the party and later as president of the Mumbai unit of BJP, till today even though I am a minister now, I have tried to maintain the same through community get-togethers, religious festivals, sports events, interactions with teachers, students and the institutes. This has been an ongoing process in the last five years and also my asset. For election campaign, in the last three months I have already completed my community-based meetings. Practically, with the announcement of elections we started interactions with citizen groups and advanced local area managements. I outlined my achievements and told them of my future plans. Almost a hundred such group meetings have taken place. In early evenings I do road shows or go door to door to meet my constituents. My corporators have been assigned polling stations and they also do door-to-door visits. Being a two-time corporator, I am conversant with all legal, technical and scientific issues of the city and I can claim that I have made myself available on maximum issues.
Both you and your opponent Asif Zakaria are equally popular in your constituency. How optimistic are you of victory?
I do not think assembly means six wards only. Unlike others, I have been in all the six wards since last 15 years. I am a two-time corporator of different wards. In 2009 for the first time I contested for the assembly. My understanding of the assembly spans till 2019. My people connect is my asset. My opponent does not have presence in more than one and half ward. Without commenting on my opponent I feel my work and my connect speaks for itself.
You are known as an organization person who understands the city very well. With the focus on infrastructure development, what has your government done to address civic issues like potholed roads, flooding in monsoons and frequent bridge collapses?
We cannot forget that in this city 55 bridges have been set up Nitin Gadkari. This is BJP’s contribution to the city from 1995 to 1999. The metro work being implemented is an alternative means of transport to Mumbai suburban railways. In the case of underground metro, 65% of underground tunneling work is already complete despite all kinds of issues coming up. We are also upgrading suburban railways from AC to DC, enhancing platform heights, increasing rakes to up 15. We have achieved all these in the last four-five years. With people’s expectations increasing we are happy to perform and meet those expectations.
Despite tall claims no single infrastructure project in Mumbai city has so far been completed except CCTV implementation. Your views.
We are not running behind schedule, rather we are on schedule. On every count we claim success on completion of infrastructure projects. If you look at the scene five years prior, people questioned if this city will ever get better infrastructure. Now the discussion has changed to why things are not happening in a particular manner. So the discussion and focus are now shifted. I think things are definitely running on schedule and not running behind schedule.
What is the status of the Navi Mumbai international airport?
Work is going on. You have to understand that we have to deal with different issues that are local, political, infrastructure and court related. In spite of all these issues, practically in about 1,600 days we have delivered so much and that is our achievement.
How are you ensuring that BJP emerges as the single largest party in assembly elections?
We are very confident due to the kind of mandate people have given us in each election. Apart from that, our connect as workers and ‘sevaks’… as [prime minister Narendra] Modi-ji has always taught us that we have to work as ‘sevaks’… So as sevaks we are always on roads and with citizens and with their concerns. This is our confidence and as an alliance we will be at no. 1 position in Maharashtra. With the opposition only working with their individual interest rather than interest of the state we have double the responsibility to perform and yet be humble about it. We will do that.
How optimistic are you about the candidates of your alliance partners? Why?
Both parties have good candidates. I genuinely feel that the candidates of Shiv Sena are also from the grassroot level and have been performing in their respective constituencies for a long time. The performance of the government is going to add to it. Shiv Sena’s organization [its interaction] with people, its candidates’ connect with people of their constituencies and the government’s performance collectively brings confidence of a good victory as allies.
Union home minister Amit Shah has said that Article 370 is a poll issue but the opposition says people of Maharashtra are concerned with economic slowdown, job losses and farmer issues. Your view.
He never said this. The press has reported his speech on Article 370. We welcome that. Our election campaign is based on the achievements of the Devendra Fadnavis government. Our Maha Janadesh Yatra of the hon’ble chief minister was extremely successful. Aditya Thackeray’s campaign was also on local issues. Only because our opponents want us not to speak about it, it will not happen that way. We will cross-examine and ask them questions. Why is Sharad Pawar opposing the abrogation of Article 370? Maharashtra is not separate from the nation, we are part of the nation and so is Kashmir. Only because you are opposing it and finding it difficult to reply, it will not happen. We will ask them again and again why the language of Imran Khan and Sharad Pawar is same on the issue.
The opposition says real issues in Maharashtra are economic slowdown, job losses and farmer distress….
We are discussing these issues and have not stopped them to raise these issues. We are campaigning on our achievements. At our press conference a few days back we spoke about how 43 lakh framers have benefitted, how 30 crore hyper-annuity projects (PPP model) on roads have started. We are talking about metros coming up, the coastal road, the new airport, Nhava Sheva bridge, Baba Sahib Ambedkar International Monument, Chattrapati Shivaji Memorial and how the state has improved its standards of education and ratings… now since they have no reply to this they have their own fallacies. Are we asking them why they are talking about GST and demonetization in sabhas when these issues should have been over with parliamentary elections? Article 370 also is a national issue.
Your government wants to have Metro 3 car depot at Aarey Colony but your alliance partner Shiv Sena opposes it. Is that not an embarrassment when you have been traditional allies? How are you going to deal with that?
In democracy everybody has a right to react and if someone has an opinion we don’t feel they are wrong. We request the media that at one level you want development of Mumbai and completion of projects on time while on other hand you will have issues of concern and oppose underground and over-ground metro, Mumbai-Nagpur expressway, Mumbai-Pune expressway, the coastal road, Bandra-Worli sea link. Today everyone including activists and opponents are travelling on the expressway and the sea link. Citizens and also the media must understand that it is not a question of our ego but the necessity of the city. Unfortunately, people are losing their lives travelling on suburban railways. Pregnant woman do not have access to public transport because it is overcrowded. We are also upgrading suburban railways and further integrating railway, mono, metro and BEST commuters on a single ticket. With metro coming in, there will be fewer cars on road and less pollution. We are also connecting metro with Mumbai metropolitan region, with places like Ulhasnagar, Thane, Kalwa, Thane and Kalyan regions. BEST buses revival was also government’s plan. There is an argument and a counterargument. We respect their opinion, but we have to be practical in city-centric functioning.
But in Delhi, despite metro, number of cars has not decreased.
Mumbai due to its location is landlocked and cannot grow, whereas Delhi is not landlocked and growing. Like I said, earlier, people wondered if change will come in Mumbai, whereas now with change happening fast they are arguing why it cannot be done this way or that way. We welcome citizens’ suggestions, but we are committed to the city and citizens and will deliver.
Shiv Sena wants larger representation in the assembly. Your views.
That issue is resolved. We are united, everyone has received their respective tickets and we are working on it.
Shiv Sena has said that it will hold the deputy chief minister’s post in the next assembly in case the alliance wins.
I am not an authority to react on this. Only the CM or Shiv Sena president can speak on this.
The property tax waiver for 500 sq ft flats announced by your coalition was a huge promise and two and a half years later you have said the bill is yet to pass.
The property tax has many components and the component of waiver of property tax has already been passed. Related components of taxation come attached with the bill as property tax and also have to be waived. If the state government passes a resolution to waive all other components of taxes, politically speaking, in future it can become a problem for other corporations. We have to be vigilant, study commissions’ reports on record before taking further action. We are at it.
How is the New Education Policy expected to address shortcomings in the implementation of RTE?
The New Education Policy is extending the ambit of RTE. It a welcome idea with holistic development. It allows the entry and exit route at each level to students to achieve their goals and to change and pursue subjects of their interest. Unlike earlier when the student had to pursue the same subject right from KG to 12th, now teachers will be able to evaluate the students and they will be able to pursue subjects they like. This is the essence of the policy.
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