Explained: BJP’s ‘Marathi Dandiya’ in Mumbai and the political row over it

The BJP has organised a five-day ‘Marathi Dandiya’ in Mumbai’s Sewri area, known to be a bastion of Uddhav Thackeray. The Shiv Sena has termed the move as an attempt by the saffron party to win over votes ahead of the civic body polls

FP Explainers September 27, 2022 15:38:47 IST
Explained: BJP’s ‘Marathi Dandiya’ in Mumbai and the political row over it

Garba, the traditional folk dance, has become the latest flashpoint between the BJP and the Uddhav Thackeray-led Shiv Sena. AP

Come 30 September and Mumbaikars will be able to enjoy ‘Marathi Dandiya’.

The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has announced plans to organise ‘Marathi Dandiya’ at Abhyudaya Nagar in Mumbai’s Sewri — a predominantly Marathi-speaking area — between 30 September and 4 October.

Shortly after the BJP’s plans were announced, the Shiv Sena came down heavily on its one-time ally, saying the party was an attempt to divide the people of Mumbai.

Here’s what we know about the event and the controversy surrounding it.

What is ‘Marathi Dandiya’?

The garba event has been organised by BJP MLA Mihir Kotecha. “For the last two-and-a-half years, Hindu festivals were suppressed by the government. We have organised a grand ‘Marathi Dandiya’ for five days. I’m hoping that the state government will give permission to play the loudspeaker till 12 am during the last three days,” he was quoted as telling The Print.

Famous singer and composer Avdhoot Gupte and Vaishali Samant have been roped in to perform at the event. When asked about the event, Gupte, the star performer was quoted as telling Free Press Journal, “I am happy Marathi Dandiya is being organised in Mumbai. It is a matter of great joy for me that I will be able to sing consecutively in this program and I am very thankful to BJP for that.”

Kotecha, the MLA representing the Mulund constituency, said that on each day of the event, an “aarti would be held, followed by folk songs”.

Free passes for the event will be available at BJP offices.

A push ahead of BMC elections

Many view the BJP-organised event as a push ahead of the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) polls, due either later this year or early next year.

With the event, the BMC is trying to corner the Marathi vote — which has been traditionally been with the Shiv Sena.

Incidentally, the site for the event — Abhyudaya Nagar — is in the Uddhav Thackeray bastion.

The BMC election will see 227 seats up for grabs and in 2017, the Shiv Sena and the BJP who contested the polls separately grabbed 84 and 82 seats respectively. In the 2017 BMC polls, the Sena had swept Marathi heartlands like Dadar and Parel and other localities in central Mumbai.

Within the Maharashtrian voters, around 100 seats are said to be decided by Konkani voters who have traditionally voted for the Sena, reported the Times of India.

With the split in the Sena this year, the BJP hopes that Chief Minister Eknath Shinde’s camp will be able to woo some Marathi voters.

‘A divisive move’

The Shiv Sena immediately called out the BJP for the garba event, calling it an attempt to communalise the elections.

Shiv Sena MP Priyanka Chaturvedi was quoted as telling ANI, “Till now, we have seen Navratri as a unified festival and so is Ganpati. But dividing the festival on the basis of caste, religion and statehood is unfortunate.

“We are unified and Navratri is a symbol of Durga puja and people celebrate in their own way. This is how BJP does politics. It is all about how they will divide people as per their economic standards, castes and state status.”

Sushma Andhare, a leader of the Shiv Sena, echoed similar sentiments. In a report by The Print, she said, “BJP is trying to communalise the elections by trying to consolidate the Hindu vote bank. They want to divide the society on Hindutva and that’s why they are claiming that Hindu festivals are celebrated during their regime. However, Shiv Sena’s Hindutva is all-inclusive and people can see that.”

The BJP has, however, refuted these claims. BJP’s Mihir Kotecha told news agency ANI, “Priyanka Chaturvedi must learn to speak Marathi first. We are not dividing people on caste.”

Moreover, Vinod Mishra, a BJP group leader in the BMC told The Print, “BJP has been organising garba and dandiya for Gujaratis every year. This year we have just added one for Marathi people. This has nothing to do with the election because next year, when there isn’t an election, we’ll still continue (with) something or the other.”

Festival politics

This isn’t the first time that a political row has broken out over festivals in Maharashtra.

Earlier, the two factions of the Shiv Sena — one headed by Uddhav Thackeray and the other by Eknath Shinde — were battling over the annual Dussehra rally held at Mumbai’s Shivaji Park grounds.

On 23 September, the Bombay High Court provided relief to the Uddhav Thackeray group, by permitting them to hold the Dussehra rally at the Shivaji Park on 5 October.

Before this, the Ganeshotsav celebrations also saw a political row erupt. The BJP had put up banners across Mumbai, launched special buses and trains for the ‘Marathi manoos’ travelling home to their villages in the Konkan region for the festival and also organised a competition for the best Ganesh pandal under the banner of the party’s Mumbai unit.

Some of the banners read, “Our government is in power now, Hindu festivals are out of trouble now.”

The Janmashtami festival became another flashpoint between the two factions of Shiv Sena and the BJP.

The BJP organised as many as 370 dahi handi celebrations in Mumbai — double its past average of 150 to 175 in an attempt to show the Uddhav Thackeray group that they were a worthy opponent. In fact, the BJP also held dahi-handi celebrations at the Jambori Maidan in Worli, which is a Sena stronghold and also the Assembly constituency of the Yuva Sena chief, Aaditya Thackeray.

The Eknath Shinde-led government also announced that the Dahi Handi festival will now be recognised as an adventure sport in the state. The youths participating in the festival, also known as ‘Govindas’, can apply for government jobs under the sports quota.

It is left to be seen if the BJP’s ‘Marathi Dandiya’ gives them an edge in the elections, but for now it’s time for garba.

With inputs from agencies

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