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Madam Mayor of Mumbai… please behave like a ‘First Citizen’

Kishori Pednekar has the distinction of being the seventh lady mayor of our great city. She follows in the footsteps of the very first female Mayor Sulochana Modi (’56-’57), and more recently, Nirmala Samant Prabhavalkar (’94-’95) and Vishakha Raut (’97-’98). Mayors (an elected post) are called ‘First Citizens’ even if their job is largely ceremonial or decorative. Unfortunately, the quote Kishoritai will be remembered for is: ‘Tujhya baapala’ (your father). This rude comeback on Twitter to a legitimate question about a BMC contract — “Contract konala dila?’’ (who was given the contract?) shocked Mumbaikars, but did not surprise those who know the fiery, former activist, three-time corporator from Lower Parel, known to create frequent public hungamas. Mercifully, the crass tweet was deleted after wide-spread outrage, with Madam Mayor insisting it wasn’t her but an irate Shiv Sainik who had tweeted from her phone. This led to a fresh round of anger as it clearly reflected her ‘party culture’. But our high visibility Mayor remains undaunted as she staged one photo op after another.

Who can forget her donning a nurse’s uniform and visiting COVID-19 wards last year? Being a former nurse, this was seen as a motivating gesture of solidarity. But given her penchant for sticking her neck out, she is once again in a spot with her politically incorrect comments on illegal constructions. And the granting of a COVID-related contract to her son Prasad. Mumbaikars are all for a pro-active Mayor participating more fully and engaging with citizens, which Shrimati Pednekar does, keeping an open house on Sundays at the Mayor’s official residence — a lovely bungalow inside the city’s zoo!

But what she and her BMC colleagues need to tackle on a war footing (it’s already a bit late in the day), is the monsoon flooding which cripples Mumbai. Building collapses? Come on — as we all know, everybody is hand-in-glove and partners in crime, when it comes to issuing clearances and certificates to structures that are unauthorised and unsafe.

Corruption cannot be solved by resorting to gross, unconstitutional, crude and primitive methods, as we witnessed this week, with a Shiv Sena corporator urging the public to pelt garbage on a cowering contractor forced to sit on a flooded street. It is an unbecoming ‘party culture’ that encourages and endorses such conduct from elected representatives. Illegal constructions have been the bane of Mumbai and its environs for years — but look at the brazenness of such acts.

Now comes the Chief Minister’s dire warning that we should brace ourselves for the third wave, which is likely to hit within two to four weeks! The BMC is taking worthwhile and timely steps in anticipation — like importing 33 neonatal intensive care ventilators from Argentina. But citizens are once again in the grip of COVID-19 terror. Combine that scare with water logging (our drains remain choked), building collapses, an economy on life-support, and the immediate future looks bleaker than bleak. It’s a real shame that there are unscrupulous building societies and private clubs scalping residents by overcharging members for shots that the government has capped at `750. Vaccination camps organised by local netas have been converted into blatant propaganda venues, with publicity hungry politicians plastering posters of themselves as ‘do gooders’, when in reality, they may be making a fast buck on each dose of the precious vaccine.

This is the world we live in! Forget a calamity called COVID that has taken so many lives and will take some more. We have in our midst ‘merchants of death’ (‘Maut ke Saudagar’ as Sonia Gandhi famously said), ready to trade on human tragedy. Not all is that awful — there are a few stories that help us keep the faith. When I read about Mohammad Rafique Siddiqui, owner and principal of a school in Malwani, it restored my faith in people. He helped over 12,000 families with rations and more, plus, waived off school fees of 660 students. Today, he has run out of money and been forced to rent out the lab and library.

Our First Citizen should draw up a list of people like Siddiqui and publicly acknowledge their selfless contribution during this challenging period. Like him, countless others made personal sacrifices to help others. This is not the time for self-promotion, netas! Have some shame! The civic chief has warned such facilities and threatened to issue show cause notices. It boils down to education and a work ethic that’s progressive and positive. If the leaders themselves behave like street side goondas (Shiv Sena MP Sanjay Raut boasted this week, “We are certified goondas…”), threatening and abusing the same contractors they are in cahoots with, we will have more shocking incidents — like the incredible sight of a parked SUV in Ghatkopar West, nose-diving into a gigantic water-filled sinkhole. Here’s hoping our collective hopes in the administration don’t drown in an even bigger hole! Madam Mayor, do set the right example and behave like a First Citizen — this is your primary duty as an elected representative of the people.



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Views expressed above are the author’s own.



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