Those organising the dahi handi festival in the city do not seem to have been affected by the global economic slowdown.
The Gokulasthami festival, which will be celebrated next week, is likely to be grander this year because many mandals have doubled the prize money.
For politicians, the festival is the best opportunity to display their clout, which they do through the dahi handi mandals they run.
The Bhartiya Vidyarthi Sena (BVS), the Shiv Sena’s student wing, is hosting a Govinda event at Shivaji Park. They have doubled the budget for prizes to Rs 10 lakh from Rs 6.5 lakh that they had allotted in the last two years. The prize for forming an eight-tier pyramid is Rs 2.51 lakh this year. “Our dahi handi is a prestigious one and we have maintain its standard,” said BVS leader Suraj Chavan.
Sankalp Pratisthan, headed by state Housing Minister Sachin Ahir, has also hiked its budget to Rs 25 lakh from Rs 15 lakh. “There is been an increase in the number of teams and hence the increase in the budget,” said Ahir who has organised a laser show during the event to depict the history of the festival.
Sena legislator Pratap Sarnaik has also increased the budget for the festival to Rs 65 lakh from Rs 55 lakh. He has also increased the height at which the pot will be tied by one tier and has fixed the first prize at Rs 25 lakh unlike the previous years, when it was Rs 11 lakh. Gokulasthami is one of the major festivals celebrated in Maharashtra and in recent times, politicians have been competing with each other to attract larger crowds. “Big money tends to boost the egos of the party cadre. It has now become a prestige issue for politicians,” said senior political analyst Nilu Damle. “Politicians also cash in on media coverage given to rich mandals.”
This festival is popular among the youth, who form the backbone of a political party, and this acts as the best platform to attract them.
The Wadala unit of the Congress has increased its prize money to Rs 2.22 lakh from Rs 1.11 lakh. “Big budgets tend to attract more people and the atmosphere is altogether different,” said Sunil More, a Congress corporator from Naigaum, who is organising an event locally.
The Maharashtra Navnirman Sena, fresh from recent electoral success, has hiked its prize money at several places. At Ranade Road, the prize money has been increased to Rs 1.11 lakh from 51,000 and at Mahim, it has gone up to Rs 2.22 lakh from 1.11 lakh.
Govinda mandals, however, are not impressed with the increase in prize money. “We have been deceived on many occasions and we hardly get a fraction of the prize money,” Yeshwant Jadhav, president of the Tadwadi Mandal, a major player, alleged.
Mandals say organisers announce grand prizes for eight, nine and ten-tier human pyramids, which are impossible to achieve for most Govindas [those who form human pyramids to reach the pot].
Another problem, mandals say, is that when the prize money is given it is a fraction of the sum announced. “Many mandals tend to subtract the expenses of the band or music system and refreshments and we get hardly get half,” Jadhav claimed.
He said cheques often bounce and after the festival organisers make them run around for the prize money. He said his mandal has now decided to only go for breaking handis in places where the sum assured is given.