The Janmashtami festivities on Monday promises to be a grand affair with politicians, who organise dahi handis, pulling off gimmicks to bring in the crowds. Over the past few years, the dahi handi has metamorphosed from being a common man’s festival to a platform for politicians to boost their ratings.
The ever-increasing prize money, presence of film stars and live performers has even lent a glamour quotient to the festival.
This year, Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS) legislator Ram Kadam has tripled the prize money at his dahi handi in Ghatkopar from Rs31 lakh to Rs1 crore. State housing minister Sachin Ahir plans to erect a replica of a stadium to seat celebrities visiting his handi.
The Bhartiya Vidyarthi Sena (BVS), which organises a handi at Shivaji Park, has also upped its prize money from Rs10 lakh to Rs15 lakh. The star attraction at their dahi handi this year will be Marathi singers Vaishali Samant and Awadhoot Gupte.
In Thane, legislators Jitendra Awhad and Pratap Sarnaik are rivalling each other to grab headlines. While Awhad plans to distribute prizes to the tune of Rs1 crore at his dahi handi, Sarnaik has ordered a 130-feet-high trolley from Hyderabad for live streaming of all the action at his handi on the Internet.
Awhad, who claims to be the pioneer in hosting grand dahi handis, has also invited a Spanish team to participate in the festivities. “Organising the event has been my passion and there is no politics involved at all,” Awhad said.
BVS functionary Suraj Chavan seconds Awhad’s opinion that it’s not always about politics or money. “The number of teams increases every year and more than the prize money, it is the thrill of breaking the dahi handi that attracts crowds,” Chavan said.
According to political analysts, the festival has been commercialised by politicians. “Dahi handi is part of the state’s culture, which has now turned into a commercial venture by event management teams. Politicians have joined in to make a name for themselves and for electoral gain,” said veteran political commentator Prakash Bal.
Congress MP Sanjay Nirupam defends politicians. “Even corporates who sponsor an event publicise their brand. What’s wrong if politicians do the same,” said Nirupam, who is paying insurance premium for 10,000 govindas and distributing 22,000 T-shirts to revellers at his dahi handi.
Ahir said, “Politicians have taken a lead in organising the event, but that does not mean it is all about politics.”