The decision of political parties to stay away from dahi handi festivities this year on account of the swine flu scare impacted celebrations.
Politicians like Jitendra Awhad, Sachin Ahir (both NCP) and Pratap Sarnaik (Shiv Sena), famous for organising star-studded celebrations and for offering lakhs of rupees as prize money to mandals, did go ahead with the festivities but kept them low-key.
The Congress and NCP are known for organising the celebrations while mandals largely owing allegiance to the Shiv Sena and Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS) are known for breaking the handis and claiming big prizes. Over the years, the prize money has gone up and runs into lakhs of rupees. The festival has thus become an opportunity for parties to connect with voters.
This year, the Sena and MNS stayed away. Sandeep Deshpande, vice-president of the MNS students’ wing, said: “We represent Maharashtrians and have a strong cadre base, so our absence is bound to affect celebrations. Our party has cancelled at least 300 handis.”
Abhijeet Panse, president, Bhartiya Vidyarthi Sena (BVS), said they would celebrate the festival at the end of the year. “We feel the (flu) infection will be contained by then,” he said.
The BVS, which had had a budget of Rs. 10 lakh for the festival, has refunded donations. In Thane, the Sena’s Tembhi Naka Mandal, Awhad’s Sangharsh Mandal and Sena leader Pratap Sarnaik’s Sanskruti Yuva Pratishthan used the money for social causes.
“We have donated 10 ambulances to mandals in Mumbai and Thane,” Awhad said.
Sarnaik’s group will spend the prize money of Rs. 11 lakh to create awareness on swine flu and provide aid to poor patients.