Netas divided over Awhad's decision to scrap Mumbai's costliest dahi handi

Jitendra Awhad’s decision to scrap the city’s costliest dahi handi, ostensibly to help drought-affected people, has set the cat among the pigeons in political circles, with netas divided over whether to support him or slam him for politicising the festival; the city BJP president has even labelled the NCP leader ‘anti-Hindu’

Govindas may miss the glamour quotient and prize pools totalling crores of rupees during the dahi handi celebration this year, thanks to a googly bowled by one of the major organisers of the traditional festival, which has reached dizzying heights over the past few years.

Also Read: NCP MLA Jitendra Awhad cancels dahi handi event in Thane over Maharashtra's drought situation

According to rough estimates, the dahi handi business in the city and suburbs may have a turnover of about Rs 100 crore. File pic
According to rough estimates, the dahi handi business in the city and suburbs may have a turnover of about Rs 100 crore. File pic

Mumbai and Thane’s costliest ‘Sangharsh’ dahi handi, will not take place this year because its organiser, NCP legislator Jitendra Awhad, wants the money collected for it to be used to help drought-affected people of the state. Most of the major organisers of dahi handis are politicians and Awhad’s announcement yesterday caught them off guard.

The ‘Sangharsh’ dahi handi organised by Awhad would attract a huge crowd as well as a variety of contestants, including teams from Spain
The ‘Sangharsh’ dahi handi organised by Awhad would attract a huge crowd as well as a variety of contestants, including teams from Spain

While some netas claimed that Awhad’s move as nothing but “drama” to score political brownie points, most were left with no choice but to announce that they would clamp down on their own spending to avoid seeming unsympathetic to the cause.

Read Story: Dahi Handi goes Retro Disco

Whatever his motivations, one thing is certain: Awhad’s move will prove to be a dampener for the dahi handi celebrations, which had already suffered a setback last year after the Bombay High Court laid down strict rules for it, following casualties and even fatalities becoming all too common during the celebrations.

While the SC had subsequently relaxed some of the rules and the state gave dahi handi an adventure sport status, the game which, according to back-of-the-envelope calculations, has a turnover of nearly R100 crore in Mumbai and Thane alone may never be the same again.

“It is not appropriate to celebrate dahi handi when people have no water in the drought-affected areas. We want to help them in the best possible manner. We will seek donations, which we otherwise seek for dahi handi, for the distressed people,” Awhad told mid-day.

He denied that there was any political motivation behind the move. “I have the guts to announce this. I don’t care whether others scrap their respective plans,” the NCP MLA from Mumbra-Kalwa said, adding that a special scheme was being planned by him to reach out to drought-affected people.

Apart from Awhad, whose dahi handi is held in Thane, BJP legislator Ram Kadam (Ghatkopar), NCP ex-minister Sachin Ahir (Worli), Shiv Sena MLA Pratap Sarnaik (Thane), Sena MP Rajan Vichare (Thane), and MNS leader Bala Nandgaonkar (Kala Chowki) are among the prominent organisers of the festival.

The organisers attract players to their respective events by roping in Bollywood celebrities and international cricketers and announcing huge cash rewards for erecting taller-than-ever human pyramids.

Fallout
Following Awhad’s announcement, while some organisers said they will continue the tradition, albeit in a low-profile way, others said the NCP leader had pulled out because his party was no longer in power and he was, hence, not in a position to pull strings to make his event successful and profitable.

Shiv Sena’s Pratap Sarnaik, the MLA from Ovala-Majiwada (Thane) said he was the first to scrap the festival last year and donate all proceeds for the treatment of a local girl, who was abducted and thrown off a running auto by a rickshaw driver last year.

“It was Awhad who had opposed my decision then. He had questioned my decision saying it was surprising that a party (Sena) which was loyal to Hindutva had abandoned the festival. Now, I question him. Where was he when the state faced drought in the past four years?” Sarnaik told mid-day.

He said Awhad has been dividing the people on communal and caste grounds. “He must first compensate the government for instigating people who caused damage to public property while opposing the Maharashtra Bhushan honour to Babasaheb Purandare and then talk of helping the poor.”

Sarnaik said his organisation, Sanskruti Yuva Pratishthan, will celebrate the festival, but keep it low-key. “Celebrating Hindu festivals is our priority and we will do it as per court orders and government guidelines.”

‘Good, but not good’
BJP’s Ram Kadam, who is known for announcing very high cash rewards at his Ghatkopar dahi handi, had a word of appreciation for Awhad, but rejected the idea of completely scrapping the celebrations. “I will go beyond party politics in welcoming Awhad’s declaration.

Also Read: 'Dahi handi' gets status of adventure sport in Maharashtra

But then, stopping the festivities is not the proper way. We must try to keep our traditions alive. I will have my dahi handi this year, but will spend only 10 percent of the total budget on it and spend the remaining 90% for the drought-affected people,” said Kadam, appealing to all organisers to do their part by making significant contributions to help the drought-affected.

‘Anti-Hindu’
City BJP president Ashish Shelar who also headed the committee which decided on giving the adventure sport status to dahi handi pulled no punches, however, and accused Awhad of being anti-Hindu as well as of doing nautanki (drama).

“Awhad was a member of our committee and he did not attend a single meeting. He is anti-Hindu and he does not want to celebrate the festival as per the new norms,” said Shelar.

He added that Awhad was politicising the festival and he would have helped the drought-affected people earlier if he cared about them. “He did not donate to the CM’s fund for drought relief. He did not give a single paisa, directly or indirectly, for any such relief.”

Standing tall
Awhad dismissed all these allegations as baseless. “I go to meet and help people regularly and I’m not answerable to these politicians,” he said. NCP’s Sachin Ahir, whose Worli dahi handi, is also rich, glamorous and popular, could not be reached for comment as his phone was switched off.

Did you know?
Earlier this month, the Maharashtra government accorded the status of ‘adventure sport’ to the formation of human pyramids by ‘govindas’. It also banned those below 12 years from participating in it

Sporting spirit
Because of injuries, some fatal, to govindas while forming human pyramids, the Bombay High Court had directed last year that no person below the age of 18 years should participate in the dahi handi celebrations.

Following an appeal from organisers, the Supreme Court had allowed children above the age of 12 years to participate if the organisers guaranteed their safety.

After giving the dahi handi a status of adventure sport last December, the state had appointed a committee, headed by BJP MLA Ashish Shelar to recommend guidelines, which were issued last week. Some of them are:

>> No child below the age of 12 years will be permitted to participate in forming human pyramids. A No-Objection Certificate (NoC) signed by their parents or guardians is mandatory for children above 12 years of age.

>> Organisers will have to ensure safety equipment chest guard, helmet, safety belt, safety harness for the participants.

>> Personal insurance of govindas is mandatory 

>> Organisers will have to seek necessary permissions, including those for the venue, police bandobast, medical facilities and water availability

>> There will be no restriction on the height of the human pyramid

It is not appropriate to celebrate dahi handi when people have no water in the drought-affected areas. We will seek donations that we otherwise seek for dahi handi for the distressed people - Jitendra Awhad, NCP

He is anti-Hindu and he does not want to celebrate the festival as per the new norms. He did not donate to the CM’s fund for drought relief. He did not give a single paisa for any such relief. - Ashish Shelar, BJP

I’ll go beyond party politics and welcome Awhad’s declaration. But, stopping the festivities is not the proper way. In my dahi handi (in Ghatkopar) this year, I will spend only 10 per cent of the budget and use the remaining 90 per cent on the drought-affected people - Ram Kadam, BJP

Awhad had questioned my decision (to scrap the festival last year) saying it was surprising that a party, which was loyal to Hindutva, had abandoned the festival. Now, I question him. Where was he when the state faced drought in the past four years? - Pratap Sarnaik, Shiv Sena

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