‘Being part of MVA a difficult journey; political interference in every constituency’

Samajwadi Party (SP) MLA of Bhiwandi East and Board Member of Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) Rais Sheikh explains his party’s position on the current political situation in Maharashtra, his experience working with the Thackerays and the future of Maharashtra Vikas Agadi (MVA) alliance.

Q) SP is part of the MVA Alliance. Can you explain a little about the current political situation in the country and where your party stands at this time?

Answer) The country has two clear ideological divisions. One is Hindutva where the core belief is the creation of Hindu Rashtra. The other side is a liberal India that believes in the idea of ​​an Indian constitution. The Samajwadi party is definitely on the last side versus Shiv Sena. The journey of being a part of Maharashtra government Vikas Agadi was a difficult journey for us. While there was an ideological divide between the parties, the goal of the drafted Common Minimum Program (CMP) was to ensure that we met on common ground. While the overall business plan was well thought out, it was quickly forgotten and that’s where the trouble started. All our country’s liberation army that was not a minister was marginalized. There was political interference in every constituency. In our constituency, the Prime Minister has begun providing funds based on letters of request from MLAs who have gone missing. On a grassroots level, almost everyone was complaining. If they say that this current situation was precipitated by fear of ED (Execution Directorate) or because of Hindutva, they are daydreaming. There was clear discontent among the MLAs who did not accept Uddhav Thackeray’s leadership. Moreover, we had Aditya Thackeray who never met anyone.

Q) Do you think that the moderate face of Hindutva shown by Uddhav Thackeray has become a burden on Shiv Sena?

Answer) This is the crux of the problem – moving from a Hindutva party to designing your own Hindutva within the family. Shiv Sena has a strange DNA. Uddhavji was trying to portray that my Hindutva is different from your Hindutva. Then Aditya was creating a major aberration as he was moving towards more AAP type ideology (Aam Aadmi Party), trying to get religiously neutral votes. This conflict within the family was dividing Sina herself.

Q) How do you analyze the performance of Uddhav and Aaditya Thackeray?

Answer) Uddhavji believed that people would tolerate anything just because it was Thackeray, which led him to belittle others. When I met to vote the Rajya Sabha, there were no serious negotiations. When I asked others around him why they were not told these issues, they said that you cannot tell Thakira critical things; You can only answer their questions and you cannot advise them. You can have a conversation with Sharad Pawar, you can fight with Ajit Pawar but you can’t tell Thackerays anything. With them, it’s just a one-way communication. With Aaditya, you can talk to him about nice things like what’s happening in Davos. But if you tell him there’s rubbish littering Chaul BDD and something needs to be done, he’ll feel uncomfortable. I had a conversation with him where I told him that his policy was 10 years ahead of time and that these issues wouldn’t get votes. He told me that someone should think beyond the sounds only. But I told him it wasn’t the right time. But then he starts ignoring you and stops talking to you.

Q) What future do you see for MVA?

Answer) The Congress, the NCP and the Socialist Party who are committed to secularism will remain together. I am not saying that Maharashtra accepted Hindutva; It is the MLAs that have accepted it. Maharashtra is a progressive and socialist country and there is a place for secular politics. As far as Sena is concerned, it’s not like Shiv Sena is completely gone with Shinde. Only strong people remain and we must remember that strong people are constantly changing. Even today, Shiv Sena enjoys great popular support.

Q) Amid complaints about the inaccessibility of the CMV and the inappropriate allocation of development funds, as an ally of the MVA, how receptive is CM to smaller parties like you? Have your demands been met since you joined the alliance? What is his approach to issues such as the detention of Muslims?

Answer) He was consciously ignoring us. He always felt that any discussion or statement about minorities would alienate his Hindutva voices. However, there were two very distinct phases in his working style. Soon after taking office, he was very open. After bringing in the CAA-NRC, we had a discussion about it. He comforted me. There was communication and we felt good about having a CEO who was willing to listen and felt someone you could work with. But during Covid, we totally lost it. We were meeting on a council, ignoring everyone. He was only shown as a guest.

Q) I have seen the performance of MMRDA and BMC closely. Have you ever felt that Iknath Shinde was constantly being marginalized, and if yes, in what way?

Answer) It happens every time. If Eknath Shinde is the Urban Development Minister and MMRDA operates under him, why would Aaditya go and chair their meetings? He acted like a prince instructing “isko itna Fund dena hai, usko utna”. Either your father makes you the head of the party or you wait for your chance. Therefore, every bureaucrat was really confused every day.

Q) The Maharashtra unit of the Socialist Party is considered by many to be a Muslim party. There is a perception that many of the so-called Islamic parties end up being, consciously or unconsciously, the BJP’s second-team by dividing the secular vote. How do you respond?

Answer) I abdicated and became part of the MVA, competing for only three seats. In one of those seats, we had the MLA party seated, and in the other two seats, we had the second party. I scaled back my party for the greater secular interest. I didn’t say I wanted to fight on multiple seats like AIMIM did last time in Maharashtra. The second point is a track record, I consistently won seats. I’m not like AIMIM, who won once in Byculla and the next time in Dhule. There is a big difference between AIMIM and us. For the past 25 years, we have been doing consistent and stable policies. Our public representatives are constantly winning. We have compromised in the greater interest of ensuring that neither Congress nor the NCP loses because of us.

Q) You know how BMC works and how contractor lobbies work. So, do you see any hope for Mumbai’s roads that develop potholes and sink every year?

Answer) BMC is a 125 year old organization and we still depend on a certain group of contractors to do most of the work. Aditya (Thakirai) who is a minister could have intervened and changed him. I remember as a kid, BMC personnel would be used for road construction and surfacing work. This work was cheap and durable. Shiv Sena complicated this process by awarding contracts. The rate of road contract is 14,000 rupees per square meter in our city while the same work has been done by us for 2,800 rupees. Sena has built a tough financial model in the city. We have to take the focus off the contractors. We have a strength of 1.25 thousand people working in BMC, which must be used effectively.

Q) Do you support the division of BMC for better management?

Answer) BMC has a great way to decentralize – we already have administrative departments, we have departments, and additional municipal commissioners. I do not support the dismantling of BMC. I would say that the administrative wings need to be reorganized. It should be more efficient.

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