City/State

It is too soon to make any definitive statements on the antecedents of these latest bombings in Mumbai. However, it is not too early to evaluate some aspects of Mumbai's response to the emergency and its crumbling infrastructure. What has been highlighted yet again this week is Mumbai's continued exclusion from the horizon of Maharashtra's policy-making.

This is caused by well-understood structural factors. As is the case for most state capitals, Maharashtra's political leadership rarely worries about the voters of Mumbai, as their bases are outside the city; the capital exists, in the mental landscape of many of them, as a place where money is made, and from where funding comes. Delhi, for all its famously divided administration, has shown in the past decade or so the benefits that accrue to a city with a functional, legitimate, activist government. Unfortunately, Mumbai's local government is a joke and has been consistently undermined by the state government, as well. The Mumbai Metropolitan Regional Development Authority, or MMRDA, is the state government's preferred method to undercut the municipal corporation. In areas where authority is so grievously divided, planning and investment suffer, and thus Mumbai's infrastructure deficit, its security deficit, its vision deficit. Nor can we expect any of this to change until the institutions that have caused the city's stagnation are forced to change.

The most important change is to make local government more powerful, and more accountable. Mumbai's citizenry sense their city's decline, and feel that they need someone to blame but all those responsible seem somehow too remote. Partly, that is because they are too remote, and that nobody has a political investment in making policy that is good for Mumbai's development. That must change. Mumbai's stagnation and decline hurts the India growth story disproportionately, just as its recovery and growth would help it immeasurably. The city-state of Delhi has overtaken Mumbai in indices of liveability and security, in spite of having the Central government to deal with. India's financial centre must be granted a comparable sense of its own destiny starting with the ability to elect representatives who really matter, to a governing body capable of raising money and investing in security and transport infrastructure. Without that, further decline is heartbreakingly certain.

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