Mumbai: Colourful pandals, enthused devotees and blaring music — the 10-day Ganesh festival is synonymous with Mumbai and presents a rare opportunity for political leaders to be seen rubbing shoulders with the common man, especially with the civic body elections in the city expected to be held later this year.
Over the course of the festival, Maharashtra Chief Minister Eknath Shinde went on an ‘outreach’ overdrive, visiting about 50-60 local Ganpati pandals in the city each day, two sources close to the chief minister told ThePrint.
The CM likely breathed a sigh of relief Friday, which marked the end of the festival and the “hectic” pandal spree which kept him on his toes “at least 20 hours every day”.
According to sources, for CM Shinde, who has been in office for a little over two months, the pandal visits were important for two reasons — establishing the presence of the Shinde-led camp of the Shiv Sena in a city where supporters have traditionally been loyal to the Thackeray family, and highlighting the contrast between Shinde and his predecessor, Uddhav Thackeray, who was accused by his detractors of being inaccessible.
In June this year, Shinde led a rebellion of 40 Shiv Sena MLAs and walked out of the Maha Vikas Aghadi (MVA) coalition government comprising the Sena, the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) and the Congress.
The Shinde-led faction then joined hands with the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) to form a government with Shinde as the chief minister and Devendra Fadnavis as deputy CM.
Civic body polls scheduled for later this year in cities across Maharashtra — especially in Mumbai, Thane and Pune — will be the first major trial by fire for the Shinde and Thackeray camps since the split.
The CM, whose influence is largely restricted to Thane, has been working towards building an administrative cadre in Mumbai and expanding his clout in Thackeray’s home turf.
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Ganpati pandal hopping
A senior leader from the Shinde camp, who did not wish to be named, told ThePrint that, as a political leader, the Maharashtra chief minister always made it a point to visit as many Ganpati pandals in Thane as possible.
“Going to people’s houses and housing societies for Ganpati darshan made him a popular leader in Thane. This year, as chief minister, he [Shinde] decided to do the same for Mumbai,” the leader said.
“Chief ministers usually visit major pandals in Mumbai such as the Lalbaugcha Raja. But this was the first time that a CM was seen at the pandals of small neighbourhoods, buildings and housing societies. This was in complete contrast to the earlier CM [Thackeray],” the leader added.
Playing to his strengths, Shinde mostly visited pandals in areas that had elected Sena MPs or MLAs part of the rebel faction led by him.
Of the 40 MLAs who rose in rebellion against Thackeray, five were elected from the city of Mumbai. Other prominent rebels included Rahul Shewale, one of the Sena’s three MPs from Mumbai.
During his 10-day pandal spree, CM Shinde visited local pandals in areas like Girgaum, Prabhadevi, Chandivali, Mulund, Naigaon, Wadala, Sion, Chembur and Dharavi, among others.
“We would end up being on the road visiting Ganpatis [pandals] till 6-6.30 am. Then, the CM would break till 10 am and start his official meetings,” said a source from Shinde’s team. In addition, the chief minister also made time to visit major pandals open to the public, and private pandals set up by senior political leaders and other eminent personalities, the source added.
Shinde visited about 150 Ganpati idols kept in small pandals, that of housing societies and private households within just the first two days of the festival, said the source.
On Wednesday, the eighth day of the festival, Shinde even visited a dozen famous Ganpati pandals in Pune.
‘Need two CMs’
Opposition parties, in their criticism of Shinde’s Ganpati pandal spree, said the festival is continual and a chief minister should prioritise the functioning of his government.
Speaking to reporters Thursday, NCP MP Supriya Sule said she received a WhatsApp message suggesting that Maharashtra should have two chief ministers. “These festivals will keep on happening. One CM can go to all these programmes and the other should sit in Mantralaya [Secretariat] and serve people,” she said.
Sule added that every political leader has a different style of working, but the way “this government is snatching, oppressing, using forces like the Enforcement Directorate — all of this is very unfortunate”.
“For those of us who are in politics to serve people, to legislate well, this time is making us very uneasy because we are not in politics for power,” said Sule, daughter of NCP chief and former Maharashtra chief minister Sharad Pawar.
“They [Shinde camp] can try to paint whatever picture they want about previous CMs, but Maharashtra has had a tradition of great CMs who have found a place in history,” said Sunil Prabhu, a Mumbai-based MLA from the Thackeray camp, to ThePrint.
The current chief minister, Prabhu added, can do whatever he wants for image building, but ultimately, the people will take the right decision.
(Edited by Amrtansh Arora)
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