Ganpati Bappa Morya: Mandals in Mumbai rake in ₹150 crore during first half of festivities
As elections approach, politicians rush to seek Lord Ganesha's blessings by opening their coffers to the mandals
As the dhol-tasha beat frenziedly into the wee hours of the morning half way through Ganeshotsav in Mumbai, bidding the god of good fortunes a farewell, it was Lord Ganpati who was having the last laugh.
In the first five days of the ten-day festival, Ganesh mandals across Mumbai, according to rough estimates, have cleared Rs 150 crore in profits. The next half is likely to rake in more as last-minute revellers rush to the mandals to make their offerings and seek the blessings of the Lord through the year.
This year's collections have been unprecedented for two reasons — for the first time in three years following the Covid-19 pandemic, there were no restrictions on celebrations, as a result of which the festivities were scaled up.
And second, with both parliamentary and assembly elections and perhaps the much-delayed civic elections set to be conducted next year, this year’s Ganesh festival in Mumbai has become grander, with politicians going out of their way to fund the various Ganpati mandals.
Apart from hard cash, politicians have also been sponsoring various events like live orchestras, bands as well as offering prizes to the winners of various competitions. They installed entrance gates with their pictures and party symbols welcoming the devotees. This, however, comes at steep prices starting from Rs 20,000 onward up to Rs 2 lakh — all depending on the influence of the mandals. Even their hoardings start from Rs 5,000 onward, serving as major sources of revenue.
Leading the pack of political donors is the BJP, whose local legislator Ram Kadam is in the Ghatkopar area. The amounts ranged from Rs 500 for smaller galli Ganpatis to Rs 51,000 for big mandals. “This is part of the social commitment for our voters. We cannot refuse them as they are our people,” said Kadam.
The Shiv Sena (UBT) is not left behind as a majority of office bearers of the Ganesh Mandals in the Parel-Lalbaug belt, the epicentre of the festival, are the party's activists. The famed Lalbaugcha Raja is headed by Balasaheb Kamble and its secretary is Sudhir Salvi, both occupying important posts in Shiv Sena (UBT). Similarly all top Ganesh mandals like Ganesh Galli, Abhudaya Nagar, Nare Park, Lal Maidan, Bhoiwada and Chinchpokli are headed by Shiv Sena office bearers.
Shivadi legislator Ajay Choudhary of SS (UBT), who represents the Parel-Lalbaug areas, calls these new entrants opportunists. “It was the Shiv Sena that was responsible for the spread of Ganeshotsav and making it a grand event. The other parties have just arrived in recent years and their only aim is to cash in on this festival. The BJP has a lot of funds and may dole out generously to the mandals but their tactics will not work,” said Choudhry, who doubles as the president of the Shivadi Ganeshotsava Mandal.
Their main rival Shiv Sena, led by Maharashtra chief minister Eknath Shinde is not behind in the rat race. “Ours is a Hindutva party and it is natural we will celebrate such an important Hindu festival with all grandeur. Our cadre are across the place and everyone including our chief minister will be visiting major mandals to take part in the celebrations,” said Shiv Sena spokesperson and former legislator Krishna Hegde.
Forget about just funding, many politicians like Nitesh Rane, Ashish Shelar and Arvind Sawant have booked entire trains or buses for lakhs of Mumbaikars who are natives of the Konkan region, and religiously go home to celebrate this fest annually.
Political analyst Hemant Desai is not surprised. He said politicians will exploit every situation for their benefit given the competitive political situation. “Politicians want to be in the public eye, and Ganeshotsav being the most popular festival, provides them good mileage. Previously, it was Shiv Sena dominated, but now all the parties have jumped on to the bandwagon," said Desai. He further said the organisers of the festival serve as valuable workers of political parties and parties can not afford to antagonise them.
“It is imperative for politicians to keep the mandals in good humour,” he added. Idol makers too point to the increase in enthusiasm. “We normally make 200 idols yearly. However this time, the number increased to 300,” said Santosh Surve, who runs Ganesh Chitrashala, a 60-year-old idol making workshop.
Similarly the hike in donations has also resulted in increased spending on decorations by the mandals. Trumurti Decorators, a 50-year-old firm, said average decoration budgets in mandals have increased to between Rs 1 lakh and Rs 1.25 lakh from Rs 50,000-Rs 75,000 last year. “The mandals are getting a lot of donations from politicians and spending lavishly,” said , Trumurti Decorators owner Shardul Acharekar.
Ganesh Chaturthi is celebrated to rejoice the birth of Lord Ganesh. and is said to have been started in the 16th century by Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj. It was popularised by the Peshwas who ruled Pune as Lord Ganesh was their kuldaivat (family deity). However, the celebrations were confined to individual homes.
In 1892, Bal Gangadhar Tilak, a stalwart of the freedom movement, started the concept of sarvajanik (public) celebrations at Keshavji Naik chawl in the Girguam area to foster unity among people against the British. The celebration mushroomed after the formation of the Shiv Sena by Bal Thackeray in 1967. From the 1970s onward, local Sena shakhas (branches) began celebrations in their areas to mobilise the youth, and the festival played an important role in popularising the saffron outfit.
Now, sadly, the Ganpati celebration is less a festival and more a game of political one-upmanship among various political parties, including the Congress and the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) who, however, have been unable to top the BJP's coffers of late.
Last year, Union home minister Amit Shah visited Mumbai ahead of the festivities to try and appropriate Lord Ganpati in the manner of Lord Ram, but his efforts fell by the wayside. For this has always been a sarvajanik festival in true sense of the term. Many idol makers, idol-sellers, and those selling paraphernalia could be Muslim, and quite a few of them also bring Lord Ganesh home for a day or two and partake in the festivities.
Lord Ganesh is meant to bring his worshippers good fortune, but politicians seem to be turning the tables on him and showering him with much money in the hope that he will help them win elections. If the sounds of the dhol-tasha accompanying the Ganpatis on immersion processions were any indication, there were thrice the number of mandals this year as last year, and even the smaller ones had enough resources to hire the highly expensive dhol-tasha players.
Whatever the final collection, Ganpati indeed did bring good fortune to the mandals. Whether he will similarly bless politicians, we will soon know.