An occasion or a stage, the BJP never lets one go to waste. Krishna Janmashtami Friday provided the party a perfect combination: to put its stamp on a festival intrinsic to Mumbai, and show ally Uddhav Thackeray and his Shiv Sena that there was a new boss in town.
Across the city, the party organised as many as 370 dahi handi celebrations – held on Janmashtami day – double its past average of 150 to 175. All over its celebrations were posters with photos of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Union Home Minister Amit Shah and Deputy Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis.
One of these dahi handi celebrations was held at Jamboori Maidan in Worli, the Assembly constituency of Uddhav’s son Aaditya Thackeray. The event organiser was newly appointed Mumbai BJP president Ashish Shelar, whom the party is pitting as its answer to Aaditya. Top BJP leaders, including Fadnavis, participated in this dahi handi event, symbolically breaking a clay pot.
In the heart of the city where the Thackerays once reigned supreme, the BJP again took the lead in organising dahi handis. In Thane, which has always been the Sena bastion, the most prominent dahi handis were organised by the Eknath Shinde-led Sena group.
Most of the Sena MLAs and leaders in Mumbai and Thane who were crucial in organising its dahi handis are now with the Shinde faction, and the Uddhav group felt their absence Friday.
The BJP also promised a health insurance cover of Rs 10 lakh to cover 50,000 govindas (or participants in breaking the dahi handi).
The message to the Uddhav Sena was obvious, especially ahead of the BMC elections that the BJP is determined to wrest from its former ally. The Shiv Sena has controlled the cash-rich civic body for more than three decades. The elections to the 227 BMC wards are likely after the monsoons.
In the 2017 BMC polls that the BJP and Sena fought separately despite being in alliance, the BJP had given its then partner a scare, winning 82 seats to the Sena’s 84.
A senior BJP functionary said, “Fadnavis attended at least a dozen dahi handi events, across Mumbai and its extended suburbs.”
Although dahi handi celebrations are held across Maharashtra, the main centre has always been Mumbai. The Sena had caught onto its political significance early on, supporting the competition to form the tallest pyramids possible to break the handis, hung higher and higher, showering sponsorships and cash on participants, and in turn earning their loyalty.
The NCP later got into the act, focusing its dahi handi celebrations in Navi Mumbai.
During Friday’s celebrations, Fadnavis said, “Under the leadership of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, we have been fighting corruption. As we celebrate the dahi handi festival, we renew our resolve to get rid of corruption.”
Having organised Har Ghar Tiranga from August 12 to 15, the BJP has now set its eyes on the 10-day Ganesh Festival in Mumbai beginning August 31.