When Maharashtra CM Uddhav Thackeray declared the first round of IAS officers’ transfers last week, most BJP leaders in Nagpur were worried. 

Abhijit Bangar, Commissioner of the prestigious Nagpur Municipal Corporation, had only served 14 months out of his stipulated 36-month tenure.

IAS officer Tukaram Mundhe is New NMC Chief
IAS officer Tukaram Mundhe is New NMC Chief

It was business as usual for the BJP in this municipal body until the evening of January 21, when NMC got a new chief in the second round of IAS transfers.

The announcement sent shockwaves because CM Thackeray named controversial IAS officer Tukaram Mundhe, who had been transferred 13 times in a 15-year long career, as the new NMC chief.

On Wednesday, when this reporter visited, the appointment was being discussed in hushed tones throughout the building on Palm road in the Civil Lines area, which houses the office of this prestigious municipal body.    

Mundhe has a reputation for being an upright, no-nonsense officer who frequently locks horns with ruling politicians.

For the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which has ruled the NMC for 13 years, there is particular cause for worry—after 5 years of heading the Maharashtra government, the party has been relegated to the opposition while former ally Shiv Sena, along with brand-new friends Nationalist Congress Party and Congress, rule the state. BJP workers are worried that Mundhe’s reputation of not clearing a file until he is completely satisfied will impede their hold on the corporation.

“It is an accepted norm that any government contract or file moves with certain understanding which gives benefits to everyone involved. That’s how the NMC works otherwise do you think corporators can sustain on Rs.20,000 per month? Mundhe won’t allow anything,” said a senior NMC corporator on condition of anonymity.

High-stake city

Nagpur, where the RSS is headquartered, is also the hometown of union minister Nitin Gadkari and former chief minister Devendra Fadnavis

Both Gadkari and Fadnavis are highly invested in the NMC, which has their key aides as office-bearers and the mayor. Both leaders had campaigned extensively for the 2017 municipal election, in which the BJP won 108 out of 151 seats to retain power for the third time in a row. 

Over the past year, the Fadnavis faction has gained more control over the body, and current mayor Sandip Joshi is a close friend of the former CM.

Fadnavis, currently the leader of opposition in the state assembly, began his political career by being elected to the Nagpur Municipal Corporation in 1992 when he was just 21. In 1997, he became India’s second-youngest elected mayor, taking charge in the city.

Until the assembly elections last year, BJP had complete control over Nagpur district. Out of 13 MLAs, 12 were from the BJP, which also ruled NMC and the Nagpur Zila Parishad.

But now BJP’s tally is down to six, of which three seats were won with very close margins. A bigger jolt was losing power to the Congress in the Nagpur Zila Parishad elections held earlier this month.

In a clear indication that the Shiv Sena-NCP-Congress government is aiming to target BJP in its stronghold, three senior cabinet ministers including the home minister are from Nagpur district.

With Mundhe’s transfer to NMC, the situation is likely to get difficult for the BJP and Fadnavis.

(With inputs from timesofindia)