Dear Mr. Deora,
I am writing this open letter with regards to your recent online petition requesting for citizen signatures in support of your demand for directly elected empowered mayor for Mumbai.
Today, on the 5th anniversary of the ghastly attack on our beloved city, I write to you with deep concern, having seen your latest initiatives which claim to champion the cause of a directly elected and empowered mayor for Mumbai. I was tempted to give you the benefit of doubt and believe that even if your move stems from political opportunism, at least you are talking about an important issue. I signed your online petition. But I felt a nagging uneasiness. The reasons are clear to me and must be clarified to Mumbai.
The uneasiness was caused by my sad recollection of your betrayal of the people of Mumbai after the terror attack of 2008. Today, exactly five years have passed since that tragic incident. Today, you are busy cooking a new broth for a new election, but how can we Mumbaikars forget that day? A part of each one of us died on November 26, 2008.
Today, it is exactly half a decade to the day after the horrid attack on Mumbai, perpetrated not just by terrorists who sailed to our shores from another country but also by inept politicians who have systematically weakened governance in this city for personal gain. There can be no way forward other than to proclaim on this day, the resolve of all Mumbaikars to never fall in the same trap of political opportunism.
Just remember those eventful days when Mumbai shrank in horror as our brave policemen and soldiers laid down their lives for us. Through the sorrow and the outrage, we all believed a new chapter was going to begin. There was an unprecedented expression of resolve from Mumbai. Mumbaikars were now willing to step out of their comfort zones and work with the establishment to set things right. I want you to recall that feeling; that rage and that hope for a new way forward.
Mumbai needed a new way and it had the answers. NGOs and public groups poured out the solutions. The consensus that had always been so elusive, began to build up. It was momentous. It was brilliant. The way forward was clear. The public support was there, the solutions were there – the stage was set. We just needed resolute leadership to move forward.
At that stage you walked in like a breath of fresh air, promising that you were different, that you cared about Mumbai, about Mumbaikars and everything that this city stands for. You promised that you would work with Mumbai to deliver the solutions. This was in 2008.
LokSatta had shared its work with you a few years earlier. We had worked with you before on the issue of a directly elected mayor. In 2006, the LokSatta movement collected more than 6.5 lakh signatures under the Vote Mumbai campaign which was supported by 39 other city-based NGOs and civil society organizations. We approached you and shared our expertise. You committed yourself to the issue. In 2007 also you spoke about it but did nothing once your political need of the moment was addressed. We were crestfallen.
But this was 2008. For Mumbai’s sake, we wanted to believe that things had changed. We believed you would act; that your conscience would force you to act, the conscience that is stirred on seeing innocent lives needlessly lost, the conscience that is stirred by knowing that this attack could have been averted. We believed a stage had come when people would rise above petty politics. Yes, we really wanted to believe in you.
Mr. Deora, what you are saying today is nothing new. Every public activist in Mumbai who has given his or her sweat, tears and blood after the 2008 terror attack knows the importance of adopting a structure of governance mirroring that of leading cities of the world. A directly elected mayor was a key part of the formula, though not the only part. To activists and urban governance planners, the solution of a directly elected and fully empowered mayor is not new. Sadly, neither is it for you.
There is no gainsaying the importance of a directly elected and fully empowered mayor for the future of Mumbai. Today, we do not elect a single authority directly responsible for our city’s affairs. The great cities of the world like New York, Hong Kong, London and Singapore elect a leader directly responsible for their well-being. We are an exception and have paid a heavy price as a result. Bombay, which was Asia’s financial capital 70 years ago, no longer figures in the list of great cities of the world. It is not even on the list of good places to do business in India today.
You know, as well as our experts on urban governance do, that a directly elected and fully empowered mayor alone means nothing. Much more is needed to provide a comprehensive solution for Indian cities. Probity in public service has to be ensured. We need the equivalent of a LokAyukta at the city level, called LokAdhikari. New York has a public advocate; Hong Kong has a strong anti-corruption mechanism. You had a golden chance to gift us this solution last year. You needed to raise your voice to pass the Lokpal Bill and geta LokAdhikari for all cities, including Mumbai. But you didn’t.
You are a Member of Parliament. It is a revered house that is responsible for setting the course not just of any one city, but that of the entire nation. The Second Administrative Reforms Commission, of which LokSatta founder Jayaprakash Narayan was a member, has enumerated various measures for the renewal of cities like Mumbai. Public transportation, e-governance, right to services, right to information, grassroots democracy (Nagar Raj Bill) and more are needed to start solving the problems of urban management and reversing the decay of our cities. What stopped you in nearly five years of being an MP from championing this cause? Do you really want us to believe that you did not know any of this? Why this deception then? Why this opportunism?
Today, on November 26, 2013, I share the sorrow of each and every Mumbaikar. We are hurt, we are in pain, and we are losing hope. Do not deceive us again. We cannot take it forever. The rage has not vanished. It has merely subsided. Do not let it erupt again.
If you are sincere in your desire to solve Mumbai’s problems and help revive this once great city, don’t perpetrate the eyewash of signing petitions and submitting them to the chief minister. You are a Member of Parliament and a minister of state in the Union council of ministers. Push for a bill in the Lok Sabha. All the data and research required is available at the highest level with the Administrative Reforms Commission. Play your role as a national legislator honestly and work to solve the problems of all Indian cities, not just Mumbai. Work with the thought leaders in the area. Act.
Vounteer, LokSatta Movement (NGO) & Vote Mumbai campaign
National General Secretary of LokSatta Party (established in Maharashtra in 2012)