Mumbai: Each time the Mumbai civic polls are around the corner, political parties use the 10-day Ganesh festival usually celebrated on a mega scale in the city as a launchpad for their election campaign.
This year, however, though polls to the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) are just six months away, restrictions on festivities amid the Covid pandemic have coerced political parties to find different ways of canvassing.
Instead of theme-based grand decorations at local pandals and large programmes, political parties are busy packing ‘puja boxes’ and distributing them to households, telling people to celebrate this Ganesh festival at home.
Political parties are also sponsoring Covid vaccination camps and journeys for people in Mumbai and Thane to go back to their home towns in the Konkan region for the festival which starts on September 10.
Over the years, the Ganesh festival has become part of Mumbai’s political culture, with political parties and leaders tapping the community Ganesh mandals, their pool of volunteers and visitors to enlist foot-soldiers and boost their strength on the ground.
The Shiv Sena, especially, heavily relied on the Ganpati festival in the 1970s to expand its membership. Currently, all political parties donate generously to Ganesh mandals using the occasion to make broadcast their agendas ahead of polls.
Like last year, this year too, the Maharashtra government has imposed similar restrictions on the celebrations, including capping the height of the idol at four feet for public pandals and two feet for home pujas, disallowing processions, and urging devotees to seek blessings online.
A Modi Express, puja boxes, sanitiser stands for pandals
Speaking to ThePrint, Shiv Sena’s Pandurang Sakpal, Shiv Sena’s vibhag pramukh (divisional head) for South Mumbai said, “We can’t do anything big this time because the idol height is capped at four feet, there are limitations on visitors to the pandals, most people will take a quick darshan, sponsorships and advertisements are lower than usual. But, we are still using the festival to spread the message about Shiv Sena’s commitment to people’s health and battling Covid.”
Sakpal said, in his area — which includes the Marathi belt and Sena stronghold of Girgaum — the party distributed 1,000 puja boxes, comprising material that people need to celebrate the Ganesh festival at home.
“In addition, at our pandal, we also have an eye check-up camp, and another medical camp for children considering it is being said that children will be at risk if there is a third wave,” Sakpal said, adding he has also set up vaccination camps of Covaxin shots for those eligible for a second dose and Covishield shots for those who need the first shot with the help of local private hospitals during the 10 days of Ganpati.
Mangesh Satamkar, a senior Shiv Sena corporator from Sion, told ThePrint, he too, has a similar plan of distributing aarti boxes, holding a vaccination camp in the low-income areas of Pratiksha Nagar, and setting up sanitiser stands for mandals in his area.
In Thane, the Shiv Sena and Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS) are organising buses for people to travel to their homes in the districts of Ratnagiri and Sindhudurg for the festival.
Not to be outdone by the Shiv Sena, BJP MLA Nitesh Rane flagged off a ‘Modi Express’ train Tuesday for people from Mumbai to travel to Konkan free of cost. All coaches of the train and train passes carried a photograph of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Union Minister Narayan Rane, Minister of State Raosaheb Danve and former Maharashtra Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis.
— nitesh rane (@NiteshNRane) September 7, 2021
Like Satamkar and Sakpal, BJP MLA Ashish Shelar too distributed puja boxes — 6,000 of them — comprising aarti books, incense sticks and camphor to households in his constituency.
“Large scale programmes through pandals can’t be undertaken this year, so we are focusing more on personal outreach,” Shelar told ThePrint.
The Mumbai Congress, meanwhile, has organised a competition for the best-decorated pandals in all of the city’s 227 wards, a party functionary said.
(Edited by Paramita Ghosh)