Gokul Ashtami, apart from being a community event, was a time for political one-upmanship. The festival, dominated by the Shiv Sena for years, saw the Congress, the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) and the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS) wooing revellers too.
Even the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which normally takes a backseat on this day, joined the celebration in select pockets. It was politicians who put up most of the prize money for breaking the dahi handis. Jitendra Ahwad, NCP MLA, offered Rs 65 lakh to the group that could break the handi he sponsored in Thane. His Sena rival, Pratap Sarnaik, announced prizes of Rs 55 lakh.
NCP legislator from Worli, Sachin Ahir, organised a laser show and invited celebrities to the event. MNS legislator Ram Kadam offered a prize of Rs 31 lakh. From distributing T-shirts and food packets to booking trucks for revellers, politicians took the lead.
The Wadala MNS distributed 3,500 T-shirts and provided food packets to at least 4,000 govindas (youths who form human pyramids to reach the handis). The Wadala Congress ensured that every govinda mandal got a prize whether it broke the handi or not.
The BJP celebrated in South Mumbai, Malad and Borivli. BJP legislator Yogesh Sagar said culture and politics can’t be divorced from each other. “Festivals offer us an excellent chance to reach out to people,” he added. Many rued the event’s “politicisation”.
Prakash Bal, political expert, said: “Many try to build their political careers on such festivals and ensure their names are associated with the events.”