The rivalry between the rulingand the Opposition seems to be intensifying in the run-up to the high-stakes Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) elections.
On Monday, the Bombay High Court dismissed a plea by two BJP corporators, Abhijit Samant and Rajeshree Shirwadkar, challenging the Maharashtra government’s November 30 ordinance notifying the increase of 9 seats in the BMC, from 227 to 236 wards.
The petitioners had said that the ordinance cleared by the Uddhav Thackeray-led Maha Vikas Aghadi (MVA) government, amending the Mumbai Municipal Corporation Act, was “illegal” as it was based on 10-year-old figures from the 2011 Census.
Responding to the contention that the number of BMC seats was increased without any “quantifiable data or latest Census population data available”, the state government said the same was proportional to an increase in the population. The government called the grounds raised in the plea “unjust, arbitrary, mala fide and politically motivated”.
Sources in the Shiv Sena, which leads the MVA government in a coalition with the Congress and the NCP, said that the BJP challenged the government’s move in a bid to block the ongoing delimitation of the ward boundaries of the BMC seats. “The BJP won 82 seats in 2017 BMC polls after carrying out the delimitation exercise in its favour,” a senior Sena leader alleged. “Last year, in the wake of the Congress party’s demand, when the delimitation exercise was being undertaken by the State Election Commission (SEC) the BJP had objected to it. It seems the BJP doesn’t want any delimitation of the ward boundaries as the party fears it could adversely affect its prospects in the upcoming BMC polls,” the Sena leader said.
In June 2021, the BMC’s Leader of the Opposition, Congress corporator Ravi Raja, had written to the SEC for “rectification” of at least 45 ward boundaries that had been allegedly changed by the BJP to “favour” them in 2017 civic polls. Subsequently, the state election body issued a fresh order on the delimitation of electoral wards, inviting suggestions and objections from the public.
The BJP objected to it, saying that the delimitation can be carried out when the latest Census data is available and questioned the basis for it. A delegation of the BJP leaders also met state election commissioner UPS Madan and alleged “political interference” by the ruling party in the process of re-drawing ward boundaries, even as it urged the SEC to ensure a “fair process” in this matter.
In November, the Uddhav Thackeray Cabinet approved the proposal to increase the total number of the BMC wards to 236, stating that it was being done in proportion to the increase in population enumerated in the 2011 Census. The ordinance was last month brought as a bill in the Maharashtra Assembly and passed. The BMC then undertook the exercise of delimitation of all 236 wards in accordance with the SEC’s directions.
Significantly, the Maharashtra government did not only increase the seats of the BMC but also increased the seats in all the Municipal Corporations and Municipal Councils in urban areas and of Zilla Parishads and Panchayat Samitis in the rural areas across the state.
After the Census data was published in 1991, the BMC seats were increased from 170 to 221 on the basis of the increased population. The number of BMC seats was again increased to 227 following the 2001 Census. The 2021 Census exercise has been disrupted due to the Covid pandemic.
Sources in the Sena claimed that the delimitation exercise carried out in 2016 had damaged the party’s prospects on around 30 seats and favoured the BJP. “The BJP objected to the current delimitation exercise after Congress demanded it. Now, all the boundaries of all wards have been redrawn. So the question of redrawing boundaries of select wards does not arise. BJP fears that it may lose a sizeable number of seats in the BMC after the delimitation as the ward boundaries will be changed. That is why it has been opposing it,” the Sena leader said.
The BJP has been aggressively taking on the Shiv Sena in the BMC by levelling allegations of corruption and malpractices in the civic body. The party has been gearing up for the BMC polls, eyeing to wrest the Mumbai civic body from its ally-turned-foe which has been ruling it for more than two decades.
Currently, in the 227-member BMC, the Sena has 97 corporators, BJP 80, Congress 29, NCP 8, and6.
The BMC is due for polls in the next few months.