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Modi’s rule is quite Hitler-esque: Mayor Snehal Ambekar

Monday, July 20, 2015
By Priyanka Bhatt

A woman of many hues, the present Mayor of Mumbai, may be the first citizen of the city but Snehal Ambekar is very-much a hands-on person who is not averse to lending a helping hand to ensure that the many problems that afflict our city are solved. A born leader, she responded to all the questions with practiced ease and put forths her view on a variety of topics about the city...

It gave us a strange level of satisfaction when we entered the premises of Mayor's sea-facing bungalow. Of all of Mumbai’s population, we got to solve a bit of the mystery that had intrigued everybody for ages – what happens in that utterly beautiful mansion? As we walked towards the guarded palatial structure, it reminded us vaguely of London's Mansion House. We were made to wait in the hall downstairs, greeted by a steward with tea, and a lone Midas Cichlid staring us in the face from a considerably large aquarium tank.

We waited for the Mayor to arrive ,as we practiced our way of greeting her in our minds. Her assistant, after a while called us into an office in her residence that resembled the one at the BMC headquarters, only this one was much bigger.

Finally, we meet the lady, Snehal Ambekar, the youngest Mayor of Mumbai, wearing a crisp saree, looking rather hassled. We were skeptic about what was to come; she is after all, the first citizen of the city. In the next five minutes, our skepticism disappeared as she was more than glad to answer our questions. She's talkative, innately strong and warm enough to make us feel at home.

She surprised us by telling that she was the Prime Minister—of her school, when she was in tenth class. “My school had a system to make students understand civics, hence we had those elections. I have always had leadership qualities and a strong instinct to make a difference in society since childhood,” she says. Eldest of  four siblings, she was a student of Lakshman Prasad Poddar Girls’ School and graduated in B.Com from Kirti College.

“I was a first bencher in college, and yet I celebrated all the days in the college.” She never bunked lectures, and excelled in accounts, she told us with a certain pride in her tone. Ambekar began working soon after college in a bank, an export company, and later joined LIC as a policy agent. “I do not believe in wasting time, so I began working immediately after college,” Ambekar said.

Jayshree Devrukkar, before marriage, was never inclined towards politics, and never thought she would become Snehal Ambekar, Mayor of Mumbai. He face brightened up as we mentioned her husband. Her affair with politics began after she got married in 1995. “My husband is the secretary of the rail union, and has always been an active member of Sena. He was the up-shakha pramukh (dy ward in-charge). It was his endeavour to see me as a corporator. After I became corporator, we got to spend more time working together and accordingly strengthened our bond,” she fondly reminisced. Her only daughter, Saloni is in class twelve and was most elated to see her mother as the Mayor, and has been very understanding and supportive of her mother’s inability to spend time with her because of her manifold duties. Her routine is never fixed, she tells us, that the Mayor has to work day in and day out.

Ambekar’s demeanour was business-like once we asked her about Sena’s opposition to Chief Minister’s proposal in November 2014 to appoint a CEO for Mumbai, and Congress leader Milind Deora’s suggestion in March 2014 to give additional powers to the Mayor or appoint a CEO with additional powers. “Sena had opposed the appointment of a CEO because there are already many administrative positions,” she opined. “I do agree that there should be a Mayor’s Council with additional powers for quick decision making on problems. Mayor is the mediator between masses and bureaucracy, and hence, additional powers with Mayor’s Council would be beneficial for the people.” Her example is her fight for ‘Right to Pee’ which has not reached a favourable conclusion yet.

In the very first week of being elected, she faced the controversy of whether or not the official vehicle used by the mayor should have a red beacon. She sailed through the controversy by taking a stand for herself right from the beginning. “The Mayor has constant emergencies, as well as we go to receive VVIPs as representatives of the masses. If the CM has a red beacon, a Mayor’s status is pretty similar in terms of a city. I believe there is nothing wrong for a Mayor in using a red beacon fitted car,” she said.

There has been enough pandemonium regarding the monsoon disaster that happened on June 19. According to Ambekar, the nullah-cleaning was done satisfactorily by the BMC, but her disappointment was with the Western Railway, who, according to her did not work optimally. “The storm water drains were designed to handle 25mm-50mm of water, and it rained around 350mm that day, so it was obvious that the water could not be drained at the expected pace,” she explained. She elaborated that she had inspected the nullahs  and saw that they were cleaned, “but we can never know the technical aspect of it and cannot see what’s there deep inside.”

We gave her last year’s expenditure—Rs.1,057 crore spent on widening of Mithi river.

She did not remain tight-lipped, however, her manner remained cool. She explained, “Majority of the work is done, but we are facing few technical glitches and problems in getting NOCs at few places. But I have insisted the work be finished sooner.”

Spread of leptospirosis has added to the Corporation’s distress, on the existing flak that the BMC has faced for its flaws in cleaning drains and potholes. Ambekar informed that like every health authority, the BMC already has knowledge of how leptospirosis spreads and the measures to avoid it. She clarified that among those who succumbed to this disease, most came to the hospital at the last moment and therefore the doctors were helpless. “We took measures to prevent dengue, but leptospirosis has caught up directly after 2006.”

We mentioned to her that a recent report stated that the state health ministry had warned the BMC about an outbreak of leptospirosis. “I did not receive such information in any of the monsoon health meetings we’ve had” she told us.

Her expression turned pleasant when we asked her about a leader she admires the most apart from Balasaheb Thackeray. She immediately responded, “Mr. Uddhav Thackeray is also someone I look up to because he has no air of superiority like other politicians I have seen. He is down-to-earth and is striving towards Balasaheb’s vision of a better Mumbai,” she revealed. “I even admire Mr. Narendra Modi for his self-reliant way of working, but at some level I feel his rule is quite Hitler-shaahi. This is bound to happen when power is concentrated in the hands of one man.”

Our cue to leave came as she looked at her wristwatch and her phone rang more frequently. We tagged after her to the lawn and got her to do a short rapid fire session before she hurried into the crowd to save the city and its people from their turmoils.

RAPID FIRE

MAYOR’S FAVOURITE:

  • Book:    Swami, by Ranjit Desai
  • Author:    Mangesh Padgaonkar
  • Movie:    Satte Pe Satta
  • Actors:    Amitabh Bachchan, Jackie Shroff
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