Countdown begins for the arrival of the presiding deity of Maharashtra—Lord Ganesha. With such a large number of revellers, politicians eye their vote bank and hence are tempted to jump on the bandwagon as they do not want to lose a Godsend opportunity.
During the 70s and 80s, Ganesh festivities in Mumbai were associated with underworld gangs—Vardarajan Mudaliar at Dharavi, Chhota Rajan at Chembur, etc. However, the politicians seem to have taken over.
BJP leader Vinod Tawde, leader of the Opposition in the Legislative Council, is undertaking a tour of Konkan, a region where Ganesh festivities are celebrated almost in every household. Thousands of natives of Konkan residing in Mumbai and its neighbouring region head for their homes, notwithstanding the lack of adequate transport facilities. Tawde said that he was leading a delegation of BJP members to check if the public transport infrastructure is adequate to handle the surging festival crowds. “Our aim to see if there are adequate manpower at the bus depots such as drivers and conductors to handle the crowd,” said Tawde. BJP is yet to have a foothold in Konkan as the region is dominated by the Shiv Sena, Congress and the Nationalist Congress Party to some extent. By addressing the concerns of the local people who experience a harrowing time trying to make their way to Konkan and back to Mumbai on time, Tawde hopes the BJP would be able make an impression in their minds.
The Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS) which is now trying to identify more with Hindu ideologies has for the first time sought a total exemption of toll taxes on buses ferrying people from Mumbai to other parts of the state for the festivities. Though the MNS claims that Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan has responded favourably, no announcement has been made by the government in this regard. The MNS would also continue with its earlier demand for playing only Marathi songs at the Ganesh pandals.
Beyond the fortified walls of Matoshree at Kalanagar in Bandra, Mumbai, Shiv Sena Executive President Uddhav Thackeray has been restless. It is not post-hospitalisation syndrome, as Uddhav was recently treated for chest pain. He is fretting over the pothole-ridden roads of Mumbai which the civic body is trying to repair to facilitate the smooth procession of Lord Ganesha. As the Shiv Sena is ruling the Mumbai civic body along with the BJP, Uddhav is concerned about the negative publicity the bad roads would be getting for his party. He has been monitoring on day to day basis the repair of the potholes. Uddhav even asked Mumbai Mayor Sunil Prabhu (Shiv Sena) to drop his plans to visit Singapore just when the festivities were round the corner. The civic body has earmarked about Rs 57 crore for repair of pothole prior to and during monsoon and majority of this budgetary provision would be spent in the week leading to Ganesh festivities.
Shiv Sena leaders are also known to impose holiday on those schools that chose to run during the week long festival period. The party has also been opposing the call to restrict height of Ganesh idols and ban on Plaster of Paris (POP) solely for being populist. Ninety per cent of the Ganesh idols and all of the big ones that are over 10 feet are made of POP, a substance that does not dissolve in water after once it is set. Though environmentalists have been seeking reduction on height of Ganesh idols and use of eco-friendly substance such as clay instead of POP, Shiv Sena has been staunchly opposing the same.
With power of authority in their hands, the Congress and the NCP are trying to be a step ahead of the opposition parties and also competing with each other to appease the people. The transport ministry is with Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan while Jeevanrao Gore, chairman of the Maharashtra State Transport Corporation (MSRTC), is an NCP man. Both are taking credit for the public transport corporation’s decision to ply additional 1,500 buses during the festivals.
On September 5, Home Minister R R Patil assured a delegation of MLAs at Pune that the state government would allow traditional musical instruments to be played beyond the 10 pm deadline set by court during the immersion procession of Ganesh idols. A week later CM Chavan also gave the same assurance to delegation of Ganesh mandals (organisations) in Mumbai. Though environmentalists have already sounded the war cry as the populist decisions amounts to contempt of court, the Congress and NCP are hoping that festivals would be over before the matter came up for hearing in the courts.
Patil who has managed to cling on to his chair despite being criticised for his ‘incompetency’ wants to share his good fortune with others. Patil has assured to drop 193 cases made against the Ganesh Mandals for violation of noise pollution norms in the past. The 193 cases are only from Pune, other regions of the state would also make similar demands.