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’Tis the season for politics

Dahi handi, Ganeshtosav, Navratri and now Chhat puja. Every festival celebrated on a large scale in Mumbai has been used for political purposes too, writes Sweta Ramanujan.

india Updated: Nov 05, 2008 01:44 IST

Dahi handi, Ganeshtosav, Navratri and now Chhat pujaEvery festival celebrated on a large scale in Mumbai has been used for political purposes too. The temptation to do so at this juncture is all the more with the next general elections only a few months away.

Festivals are a sure shot way for political parties to reach out to their target audiences.

Lokmanya Tilak started Ganeshotsav as part of the nationalist movement. But now it is a Shiv Sena fest. Dahi handi means a huge audience for Nationalist Congress Party leaders like Jitendra Awhad and Sachin Ahir. The BJP reaches out to its Gujarati voters through Navratri. This year they even promoted ‘Marathi Garba’.

The organisers of Chhat Puja on Tuesday did promise to keep the celebrations low key and not allow them to be used as a political platform. But given Raj Thackeray's repeated, specific mention of this festival as an instance of North Indian ‘outsiders’ trying to establish their hegemony over Mumbai, and the equally belligerent riposte from parties like the Rashtriya Janata Dal and the Janata Dal (U), this year's Chatt Puja is bound to be seen as a subtle show of strength by the latter.

“This is partly because festivals have also become part of the revivalist rituals of religion,” said Sharit Bhowmik, dean, School of Management and Labour Studies, Tata Institute of Social Sciences.

“There are other people who like to unify people on the basis of these festivals.”

Bhowmik said that religion may have played a positive role at one point but today it is being used for narrow political gains. And it makes sense for the local politician who wants to grab his voters’ attention.

Appearances and banners at festival pandals grab more eyeballs than political rallies where most members of the audience are ferried in from various parts of the city. It is a form of surrogate advertising that works for every politician. So in these days of crashing markets and rising prices while people visit Ganesh Mandals and perform chatt puja, politicians are making the most of this religious fervour.