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After Ganpati, a ‘mega Marathi Dandiya’ — BJP’s ‘Hindu festival’ push before BMC polls

Several Marathi artistes to perform at five-day celebration. Thackeray's Sena calls it attempt to get back Marathi voter base, BJP says 'not everything is for politics'.

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Mumbai:  The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) Sunday announced its plans to organise “Marathi Dandiya” ahead of the much-anticipated Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) elections. 

The event, which will be organised at Abhyudaya Nagar in Mumbai’s Sewri — a predominantly Marathi-speaking area — is scheduled to take place between 30 September and 4 October. 

“For the last two-and-half years, Hindu festivals were suppressed by the government,” said BJP MLA Mihir Kotecha, one of the main organisers of the event, said at a press conference Sunday. “We have organised a grand Marathi Dandiya for five days. I’m hoping that the state government will give permission to play the loudspeaker till 12 am during the last 3-4 days.”

Although primarily a garba event, the event will see several Marathi artistes perform. Avadhoot Gupte, a singer who primarily works in the Marathi movie industry, is among those who have been roped in to perform at the event. 

“We artistes normally get invited for various events during garba where we perform Hindi/Gujarati songs. But this is the first time such an event is being organised for Marathi artistes,” Gupte said at the press conference. “I believe Marathi manoos will now get their own ground where they can perform Marathi songs.”

The event comes as the BJP tries to clinch Marathi voters, which were traditionally the Uddhav Thackeray-led Shiv Sena’s base, ahead of the elections to BMC’s 227 seats, due either later this year or early next year.   

In August, the BJP organised as many as 370 dahi handi programmes across Maharashtra and even gave insurance covers of Rs 10 lakh for 20,000 Govindas — those who participate in the dahi handi celebrations.    

The party also arranged for free buses to take people back to their native villages in Konkan — traditionally a Shiv Sena stronghold — for the Ganpati festival, which it celebrated on a grand scale.   

The Sena sees the ‘Marathi Dandiya’ event as BJP’s attempt at trying to win the BMC elections.  

“People of all castes are involved in this festival. But BJP wants to now celebrate Marathi Navratri [and] Marathi Dandiya. This shows how they want to gain an advantage before the BMC elections. But people of Mumbai see everything clearly,” Anand Dubey, a spokesperson of the Shiv Sena’s Thackeray faction, told ThePrint.

The BJP, however, denies that the event is being organised with elections to BMC — India’s richest municipal body — in mind. 

“BJP has been organising garba and dandiya for Gujaratis every year. This year we have just added one for Marathi people,” Vinod Mishra, a BJP group leader in the BMC, told ThePrint. “This has nothing to do with the election because next year, when there isn’t an election, we’ll still continue [with] something or the other.” 

Also Read: ‘Invaders and protectors’ — what Uddhav’s speech says about his political priorities

Winning over Marathi voters

Starting 30 September, the garba event will begin with an “aarti” at 7 pm, followed by folk songs, Kotecha, an MLA from Mulund, said. 

While Gupte will perform on all five days, his co-performers — other Marathi artistes such as Vaishali Samant and Bela Shende — will change every night.

“We had previously shortlisted three areas, Jamboree Maidan in Worli, Mahalaxmi Race Course, and Abhyudaya Nagar in Sewri, but finally zeroed in on Sewri,” Kotecha said.

This venue will have a capacity to host 14,000-15,000 people. Free passes for the event will be available at BJP offices.

BJP leader Mishra told ThePrint that while the event is not exclusively for Marathi speakers, they expect more Marathi people to attend it because of the demographics of the area.  

“After celebrating Janmasthami and Ganeshotsav, now Navratri will be celebrated in a grand way. As our leader, (deputy CM) Devendra Fadnavis, said every Hindu festival will now be celebrated with much fanfare. So Navratri will also be like that,” Kotecha said at the press conference. 

Marathi voters have traditionally backed the Shiv Sena in BMC elections. This vote bank split with the formation of the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS) in 2006, with the MNS having 28 corporators in BMC in 2012. That tally, however, fell to seven in 2017. 

In 2017, the BJP and Sena fought the BMC elections separately, with the former winning 82 seats and the latter 84. 

With the split in the Sena this year, the BJP hopes that Chief Minister Eknath Shinde’s camp will be able to woo some Marathi voters.

Sushma Andhare, a leader of the Shiv Sena, sees the event as an attempt to consolidate the Hindu vote bank.

“BJP is trying to communalise the elections by trying to consolidate the Hindu vote bank,” Andhare said. “They want to divide the society on Hindutva and that’s why they are claiming that Hindu festivals are celebrated during their regime. However, Shiv Sena’s Hindutva is all-inclusive and people can see that.”

Like Mishra, Kotecha also denies the event was held with BMC elections in mind.

“We believe that voters may be Marathi, Gujarati, [or] Hindi, all believe in Modi and in the last eight years, the changes in the country are being felt by everyone,” he said at the press conference. “So not everything is for politics.”  

(Edited by Uttara Ramaswamy)

Also Read: Shiv Sena (Thackeray) revives nativist roots to counter CM Shinde’s claim to party legacy


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