WITH less than a year to go for THE elections to the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC), the Mumbai unit of the Congress party has made a sudden decision to change its leader in the civic body. While the party insisted on Friday that the move was merely to improve its performance in the corporation, where the leader of the Congress corporators is also Leader of Opposition, some leaders warned the move could lead to the loss of Marathi-speakers’ votes, as Devendra Amberkar is being replaced by Ghatkopar corporator Pravin Chheda, a Gujarati.
The Congress’s move is also an attempt to take on the BJP which has a large following within the city’s influential Gujarati community. The leaders of the party said that sacking Amberkar, a Marathi face, would not hurt the party’s prospects.
Although senior leaders did admit that Chheda’s appointment would help the Shiv Sena and Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS) corner the Congress on the Marathi manoos issue. A senior Congress leader said, “Chheda’s brief was to take on the BJP in Gujarati strongholds in the city and drum up support for the Congress ahead of the BMC elections.” He added, “Chheda is one of the only prominent Gujarati leaders in the Congress and his elevation as opposition leader is being seen as the party’s bid to neutralize the Gujarati factor which is in the BJP’s favour.”