Why all parties covet the BMC?
Mumbai: The announcement of civic polls for February 16 in Maharashtra virtually heralds the battle for the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) - the country's biggest and richest civic corporation with an annual budget of over Rs 21,000 crore.
Though the Shiv Sena-Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) alliance is hoping to romp home for a fourth consecutive victory to control the BMC keys, they continue to look over the shoulder for the Raj Thackeray and Narayan Rane factors.
To counter the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS) threat, the Shiv Sena-BJP recently worked out an alliance with the Republican Party of India (RPI) and coined the 'Shiv Shakti-Bhim Shakti' slogan to attract the Dalit voters.
There is also the challenge posed by senior Congress leader and Industry Minister Narayan Rane, a former Shiv Sena heavyweight who has vowed to dislodge the saffron alliance from the BMC.
Though Rane - a former Shiv Sena-BJP chief minister - suffered a serious setback in his home turf of the coastal Konkan region in last month's elections to smaller civic bodies, the Shiv Sena-BJP-RPI combine has not fully written him off yet.
"After we come to power in the next Assembly elections, we will put him in jail," thundered Shiv Sena senior leader Ramdas Kadam last week. He is a former leader of opposition, hailing from the Konkan like Rane.
The saffron alliance is also banking on the possible impact of Anna Hazare's anti-corruption campaign which has mainly targeted the Congress, though recent elections have yet to conclusively establish Anna's cutting edge.
With the recent re-mapping of constituencies and 50 percent reservations, all political parties are staring at the prospects of important leaders being rendered 'seat-less', and consequently defections and rebellions.
After all, the BMC is a rich and prestigious civic corporation with an annual budget in excess of Rs 21,000 crore - bigger than many Indian states or some smaller countries. It has 227 seats.
It has huge revenue sources, including octroi of around Rs 5,750 crore, property taxes around Rs 4,000 crore, and many others.
Even its expenses are massive – Rs 2,000 crore on health care, Rs 1,500 crore on education, Rs 1,800 crore on solid waste management projects, and Rs 1,250 crore on roads and other infrastructure, catering to the 18-million plus population (2011 Census) of Mumbai spread on around 425 square km surrounded by water on all sides.
Now, Mumbai is on the threshold of a major re-development and revamp, starting from the 'underbelly' of Dharavi slum - the largest in Asia - to the dilapidated old sections in south-central and the ancient fishing villages dotting the coastal areas of the city.
For long, Mumbai has been acknowledged as the country's financial, commercial, Bollywood, glamour, tourism, mafia capital - a city that never sleeps. The mega-redevelopment projects on the anvil could finally pave the way to declare it as a global financial centre.