The Shiv Sena and the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS), looking to appease voters ahead of crucial civic elections in Mumbai and Thane next year, led the way in flouting the Supreme Court’s order on dahi handi celebrations.
The court, for reasons of safety, had ordered a 20-foot cap on the height of human pyramids and barred children under 18 from participating.
Despite this, both parties risked contempt of court – often brazenly. Photographs show the court’s order was violated at several places, including Chemur, Dadar, Parel and Lalbaug.
But perhaps the most brazen violations were at Thane, where the Naupada Junction Dahi Handi, organised by MNS, created a nine-tier pyramid over 40 feet tall. Members of the Jai Jawan Mandal, which had organised the celebrations there, said they were prepared to face the consequences of their actions. “We celebrated dahi handi as we go every year. There should be no restrictions on our celebrations. I am prepared to go to jail,” said Avinash Jadhav, an MNS leader who heads the mandal. “When my party chief (Raj Thackeray) has 92 cases against him, what difference does it make if I have one, too?” he asked. The mandal offered Rs 11.11 lakh in prize money to the group that erected the tallest pyramid.
Senior MNS leader Nitin Sardesai echoed Jadhav’s views, saying the party will support all those who have been or will be booked by the police.
There were similar scenes at MNS celebrations in Chembur. Though the dahi handi was strung up at a height of 20 feet, in compliance with the court order, govindas nonetheless formed pyramids with up to six tiers as a mark of protest.
The Shiv Sena, determined not to be outdone, violated the Supreme Court order at various places.
At an event organised at Dahisar by Prakash Surve, its Magathane legislator, govindas flouted the 20-foot height restriction and minors were allowed to participate. Both rules were also flouted at celebrations in Shiv Sena strongholds such as Dadar, Parel and Lalbaug.
The Shiv Sena also used the occasion to criticise the BJP, saying that the right of Hindus to celebrate their festivals enthusiastically can only be ensured if there is single-party Shiv Sena government in the state.
“It seems as though the democratically elected government is twiddling its thumbs and the courts are running the administration,” read an editorial in the party’s mouthpiece Saamana on Thursday.
A political analyst said both parties still seem to be bogged down by their old mindsets. “The outlook of Maharashtrians has changed. They want a better life, not these issues. The restrictions were put in place after a spate of injuries and hence the majority welcomed them. But unfortunately the Shiv Sena and MNS still want to stick to their own agendas,” said Prakash Bal, an eminent political analyst.