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Bigger, richer than ever before

india Updated: Sep 03, 2007 02:07 IST
Naresh Kamath
Naresh Kamath
Hindustan Times
Highlight Story

Janmashtami, being celebrated this Tuesday, promises to turn into a game of political one-upmanship. Parties are pouring in crores of rupees, making it the richest Janmashtami ever.

Gold, cash prizes of several lakh rupees for dahi handi mandals, orchestras and live telecasts will abound this year.

Groups of youth celebrate Lord Krishna’s birthday by forming human pyramids to reach handis, earthen pots filled with curd dangling from a height. They then break the handis, much like Lord Krishna used to while stealing curd.

Till recently, the Maharashtrian festival was a non-political affair, with local associations (called mandals in Marathi) organising the celebrations. The Shiv Sena was the first political party to get into the act. The Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) now hopes to steal its thunder.

Jitendra Awhad, of the NCP, who started the trend of grand prizes for mandals, said: “It is simply mind-boggling this year.”

The kind of money being pumped into the festival is evident from the fact that many mandals are now offering up to 1,000 times the prize money they offered five years ago. Awhad’s organisation, Sangharsh, started off in Thane in 1993 with a cash prize of Rs 1,100. This year, it is offering Rs 11,11,111.

Major organisers estimate there will be about 1,000 mandals in the city this year, with prizes ranging from Rs 5,000 to several lakhs.

In political circles, the estimate of the prize money and cost is over Rs 10 crore, considered the highest so far.

Most of this is coming from politicians, who either spend their own money or rope in sponsors.

Many consumer goods majors and cellphone companies are only too happy to step forward.

For politicians, it’s an ideal opportunity to woo the youth and create goodwill among the middle-class, the biggest votebank.

Little wonder then that Congressman Sanjay Nirupam announced the ‘Handi phodo sona looto’ (break the pot, loot the gold) contest, which promises gold worth Rs 3 lakh to the mandal he supports in Andheri. Thane NCP corporator Pratap Sarnaik will hand over 11 gold coins of 10 grams each to the winning mandals. “It’s a morale-booster for the youth,” said Sarnaik.

This year, the festival will get a taste of showbiz too. DJ Aqeel will perform live at Sangharsh’s mandal, while Sarnaik has roped in Ashok Hande’s famous orchestra to play Marathi numbers. Some mandals have even tied up with TV channels for live telecasts.

The mill worker-dominated Parel-Lalbaug belt is Ground Zero for Janmashtami’s political contest. Rajesh Hatle, right-hand man of Sainik-turned-Congressman Narayan Rane, is organising 100 handis. Winners will take home Rs 1,000 for each broken handi. “This is an ideal platform to show our political strength,” said Hatle.

In contrast, the Sena is concentrating on handi-breaking teams. In Parel, the party is sponsoring 30 teams, coughing up a minimum of Rs 10,000 per team. It is also offering 50,000 T-shirts to other teams in the area. “These are our boys and it is our duty to care for them,” said Sena corporator Nana Ambole.