With ruling allies Shiv Sena and Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) slugging it out to woo revellers, dahi handi, which will be celebrated on Thursday, has turned into a political tussle. The Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS), which is currently at its lowest ebb, too, is using the opportunity to regain lost ground.
For political parties, dahi handi is an important festival, as it helps them connect with youngsters, who help them during campaigning and influence voters in their localities. Ahead of next year’s elections to the city and Thane civic bodies, political parties are trying to make the most of the opportunity by offering a range of thing from T-shirts and refreshments to cash prizes and trucks to transport the revelers.
In a first, the BJP, too, has joined the race. The party organised a dahi handi tournament a few weeks ago. Of the 125 teams that took part, 32 reached the finals. The party has instructed ward-level workers to take steps to reach out to people through various festivals. “Dahi handi is no longer a monopoly of a single party,” said Mumbai BJP chief Ashish Shelar, referring to the Shiv Sena.
Although the Sena is an ally, the BJP plans to contest the civic polls alone and is making all efforts to consolidate its position. Shelar said the party has grown exponentially and it makes sense to serve the aspirations of the people.
BJP legislator Ram Kadam has planned an event with drug abuse as the theme. “We plan to spread the message to stop abuse of drugs and narcotics. Dahi handi will be a great platform for it,” said Kadam, who shot to fame in 2009, when he refused to cancel his dahi handi celebration, although the city was gripped by swine flu.
In Thane, Shiv Sena legislator Pratap Sarnaik is spending more than Rs50 lakh as prize money for govindas. “Every mandal will get a prize. We want Govindas to come up with unique concepts such as traditional dresses or new stunts to bag additional gifts,” said Sarnaik. “Other parties just pay lip service, but the Sena ensures the festival is celebrated with fervor.”
“Youngsters provide a valuable support base for politicians. The banners and posters put up during the festivals keep leaders in the public eye,” said political commentator Surendra Jondhale.
The Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS) has also jumped into the ring by holding meetings with office-bearers of various mandals and criticizing the restrictions imposed on the festival. MNS chief Raj Thackeray has been taking personal interest, in an attempt to tap the anger among revellers. “Mumbai is famous for dahi handi and such restrictions will kill the festival,” said Thackeray.
For years, the Sena had a monopoly over the festival, which played an important role in its growth. In the past few years, the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) stole the show with high-profile celebrations by leaders such as Sachin Ahir and Jitendra Awhad. However, this year, both have decided to tone down their events on account of the strict rules laid by the Supreme Court.
“There is no glamour left because of the restrictions,” said NCP legislator Jitendra Awhad. “We cannot have a high-profile event in such an environment.”
Mumbai NCP chief Sachin Ahir, whose event attracted Bollywood bigwigs, said, “We don’t want to get on the wrong side of the law. We have cancelled our event.”