The Maharashtra government had been ambivalent about what Dahi Handi is till late Wednesday night, till it issued a government resolution (GR) categorising it as an "adventure sport". It is now "a cultural event" while the process of forming a "human pyramid was an adventure sport"’ as per a gist provided by The Times of India.
That is a turnaround definition from its earlier view. Hours before that the Supreme Court was told by the government, seeking a review of its earlier restrictions on Dahi Handi, that the exercise of forming pyramids was "associated with religion and it would hurt the people’s sentiment if the restrictions on height continued".
The government had vacillated for two full years, though, after the 2014 orders of the Bombay High Court putting restrictions on the manner in which Dahi Handi is held, Education and Sports Minister Vinod Tawde had told the legislature then that government would categorise it as an adventure sport, but did not move a muscle hoping the courts would take the call.
So the pendulum has swung merrily: First, affirmation that it was an adventure sport, then quiet till matters came to a head in the Supreme Court, then a plea that it be allowed because it was religious, and can hurt sentiments, and suddenly, back to adventure sport. This hits the credibility of the authorities who just cannot make up their minds, but are ready to be persuaded to make choices for political expediency.
BJP, which leads the government, did not want to earn the ill-will of voters and play into the hands of both the Shiv Sena — its inimical partner in government and a rival outside — and the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena that were taunting it. The case was not properly represented, they had alleged, allowing courts to intervene in matters religious. These are serious rivals for BJP; it wants to end the stranglehold of Sena on the civic bodies in Thane and Mumbai where Dahi Handi is a big thing.
Despite this sleight of hand of issuance of a GR, the authorities may still be vulnerable in getting into a pickle with the apex court, should someone move a contempt of court case. Because, regardless of what it was — sport or socio-religious — it has to ensure the adherence to the norms set by the court — a cap of 20 feet for the pyramid, and not allow use of children, that is persons under 18 to be in it.
Already, according to Marathi media reports, the Govindas and their mandals have started talking about how to get around it. They seem to interpret the order as one which has a cap when reaching the pot held up, but not when they "give a salaami’". A salaami is forming the pyramid but not reaching for the pot. This happens when it already has been taken by an earlier group.
Which means, the Govinda teams may attempt the formation of tall pyramids, and that could mean trouble for them as well as the government. One version is that the height of the pyramid would depend on how high the pot is kept, and that is the business of the organisers, not the Govindas. In short, things could get ugly.
They may videograph the events — Pratap Sarnaik, a Thane MLA, who is in competition with his peer, Jitendra Ahwad, had notched up the benchmarks and had said on TV that it has "become an event’", while promoting a Marathi movie on Govindas he had produced — but to what purpose? When politicians get involved, law takes a backseat, which is quite axiomatic in our no-questions-asked society.
The organisers of these, as well as 'Ganeshotsavs', just ignore the rules with impunity. And that transgression of rules is a norm. There are rules that not more than a third of the road width could be taken up for the pandals for 'Ganeshotsav', but they take away much more, including the footpath space. In Thane, over a thousand such illegal pandals were found last year and fined. But this year, to let them set up again, the civic body waived it.
Only towards the end of the day would the real picture emerge. But what was seen this morning at about 7 in Thane speaks of the way the day could shape. At two crucial junctions of narrow roads, pandals were being put up, blocking almost the entire carriageway. This is not new, but given the way the court has responded there seems no respect for law.
Would politics energise defiance of the ruling? Or as it has in only a few cases, tamed the enthusiasm? Would it see an effete authority just winking at it all and hope no contempt of court petition was moved against non-enforcement of its orders? It is patent that some political parties are keen on a confrontation, but hopefully, wisdom prevails at the last minute. Would they keep the pots low, or keep it boiling?