If Raj Thackeray is kingmaker, I will be mini-kingmaker: Nitesh Rane
You've protested loudly over civic issues for the past three years. What are the top three items on your agenda?
The biggest challenges Mumbaikars face are water supply, healthcare and infrastructure - all three fundamental needs to live in a city and all three on which the Shiv Sena has failed miserably. The number of malaria incidence and casualties in the past two years are mind-boggling. Before the 2007 polls, the Sena promised to build 35,000 public toilets, and in five years they have built just 2,500. Why should the Sena-BJP return to power when they have failed to perform on the most basic issues?
And there has been rampant corruption in allocating funds for all these three areas. According to the BMC data, Rs 2,900 crore was spent in the last five years on healthcare and tenders worth Rs 800 crore given for repairs to water lines and to stop pilferage. So much money spent and the problems persist without any change. This is the financial capital, people will naturally come here to find work. Instead of helping them to live well, the BMC has led them to fall prey to all manner of diseases from contaminated water, malaria among others.
Many Congress candidates who are Rane supporters are contesting in regions where the Marathi manoos issue is still evocative. Will you tell voters here that Mumbai is for Marathis alone?
When the Shiv Sena was formed, 80 per cent of Mumbaiites were Maharashtrians. That number is now down to 27 per cent. The fall in Maharashtrian population is primarily because the Shiv Sena has not been able to help the community grow financially, despite every assurance to protect the Marathi manoos. Why do you see so few Maharashtrians left in Lalbaug now? Why such largescale migration of Maharashtrians to Mira-Bhayander and other distant places? I am sure the Marathi manoos now understand that they have got nothing from the Sena. They are the Shiv Sena's votebank and they have still been reduced to 27 per cent of the population because they cannot afford to subsist in this city. Swabhimaan Sanghatana's job fair got tremendous response from the same target group and we were able to get them decently paying jobs in the range of Rs 6,000 to Rs 15,000 a month. And these youngsters wondered why their parents have police cases against them from agitating for jobs if it was actually so easy to find one.
You got only 3 of the 25 seats you sought for Swabhimaan men. Are you upset?
Not at all. If Raj Thackeray is kingmaker, I will be a mini-kingmaker. I have worked hard to establish exactly how many votes we can command in each of the 227 wards. From zero in some wards to a few thousands in others, these are Swabhimaan loyalists who will vote as we persuade them to. My men are in touch with these supporters constantly and will ensure they go out and cast their vote against the Shiv Sena on the 16th. And those votes will together be the margin of victory for Congress-NCP candidates.
A very bitter rivalry has grown between the NCP and Congress in your home district of Sindhudurg. Now that you're contesting on the same side, will you be campaigning for each other?
I have my hands full with campaigning for my three Swabhimaan men. And I don't think I need NCP leaders to campaign for my candidates. In the political arena, every party understands that alliances with those who are your opponents elsewhere are a must. It it is a fact of life. I believe strongly that the Congress-NCP alliance was the only way to end the Sena's misrule in the BMC. There can't be any selfish interest here when the two parties have come together for the good of Mumbaiites.
Make a prediction of the results.
The Shiv Sena - BJP will be voted out. But the independents and which side they choose to sway will hold a lot of significance. Not citizens' candidates - they won't be a major factor because it takes a deep understanding of local issues, caste and community break-up of the electorate in every ward and the backing of a political party that people have faith in to win an election. But the rebellions within all parties due to the unhappiness over seat-sharing agreements could be a key factor. There are rebellions that you can see and those that you can't, where party-workers are working against the official candidate because they are unhappy at being denied a ticket.