Lokmanya Bal Gangadhar Tilak’s decision to start the sarvajanik (community) Ganesh festival was aimed at bringing people together and fostering a feeling of community spirit. Over the years, the festival has not only helped nurture a feeling of community spirit but also has thrown up leaders.
Ganesh mandals have become the training ground for many future leaders in Maharashtra. And Pune has led from the front.
While political patronage for Ganesh mandals has risen over the years, many of the mandals have still retained their character as the stepping stone for larger socio-political lives for its karyakartas (members).
Vinayak Gaikwad, NCP corporator in PCMC and head of Kaverinagar Police Yuva Mitra Mandal
Back in 1993 when Vinayak Gaikwad decided to start the festival at the parking lot of the police quarters in Wakad, politics was not even anywhere close to his thoughts. A Class 6 student, Gaikwad said he was just 13-year-old when he got introduced to this festival.
Twenty-three years down the line, Gaikwad, now a sitting NCP corporator of Pimpri-Chinwad Municipal Corporation (PCMC), says the festival taught him the most important lessons of his life. “Being a karyakarta of the Ganesh Mandal helped me get close to people. It helped me understand their problems and in turn allowed me to grow my social sphere of influence,” he said.
Kaverinagar Police Yuva Mitra Mandal is the name of the mandal, which owns its inception to Gaikwad.
Hailing for a family of police personnel, other than Gaikwad none of his family members are in politics. Had it not been for a brief brush with the law, Gaikwad would have also followed the footsteps of his father and brother.
During the 2012 civic elections, Gaikwad was given the ticket by the NCP and managed to sail through easily. With an eye on the 2017 civic polls, politicians and hopefuls have lavished attention to mandals this year, but Gaikwad said each and every Ganesh festival is special for him.
Asha Shendge, Shiv Sena corporator from Kasarwadi, head of Hindavi Mitra Mandal
Sitting corporator from Kasarwadi, Asha Shendge, also made her foray into social life through the Ganesh festival back in 1987 when she was just a school student. “It started with making preparations for the puja like drawing rangoli or making the garlands. As I found the work of making the garland laborious, I started getting my friends involved in the process. That is how, I started my social life,” she says.
“It was always in my and my brother’s mind to make our festival the best. We planned for various competitions, various games to involve everyone in the festival. During my senior secondary school years, I got involved with the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP) and that helped in understand things in depth,”she says.
In order to involve more women in the festival and to get them out of their houses, Shendge started Dandiya competitions at her Hindavi Mitra Mandal in 1990s. “Soon, every one started following our queue,” she says.
Coordination for the festival laid the foundation for understanding problems of the society at large and involve them in order to solve them. From tackling habitual litterers to getting civic amenities in place, Shendge soon had emerged an important voice of the community. In 2012, she was the Shiv Sena’s candidate for the ward and emerged victorious.
Ravindra Malvadkar, NCP corporator in PMC and president of Saklipir Talim Ganesh Mandal
“The recognition to me is all because of the Ganesh festival. It has made me grow from an individual to a political leader with support of mass,” says Malvadkar.
It was in 1974 that Malvadkar became the member of Ganesh mandal and went on to lead it from 1979 till now. “I have had very less formal education.
I am a non-matric but have gained a lot of knowledge from the exposure I got as mandal representative and opportunities as its president,” he says.
“It made me understand social issues, increased my tolerance level, encouraged me to fight for the true cause and think positively towards addressing public issues along with developing skills for team building,” Malvadkar says.
The mandal has always focussed on displaying current social issues through decoration during the festival, he says.
Sanjay Balgude, Congress corporator and president of Khadakmal Ali Sarvajanik Ganesh Mandal
“The lessons learnt by working for a Ganesh mandal has shaped my personality and helped me excel in the political field,” says Balgude, who has carried forward his father’s legacy in heading the Ganesh mandal. “My father was the mandal president for 70 years. It was after his demise that I took over the responsibility in 1993 and have been heading it for last 23 years,” Balgude says.
He says the mandal teaches one a lot, including team building and coordination, which helped him to head the city youth Congress for a record 16 years.
“One has to struggle a lot while working as a worker of a mandal, which includes getting funds, managing expenditure, organising mandal activities, building a team, planning and executing activities including decoration. This teaches you many things in life and helps in developing personality,” Balgude says.
The Ganesh festival is the second biggest after the annual pilgrimage to Pandharpur where there is public participation, Balgude says. “It brings you in touch with citizens from all section of societies.”
“Times are changing now. We used to do everything that was required for the Ganesh mandals, but the present generation have their reservations,” he says.