How long before Ganapati takes up arms?

After appropriating Ram, Hanuman, Krishna and Shiva to fight its political battles, the BJP has turned its attention to the most benign of them all—Ganesha or Ganapati

Photo: Getty Images
Photo: Getty Images

Naresh Kamath

After appropriating Ram, Hanuman, Krishna and Shiva to fight its political battles, the BJP has turned its attention to the most benign of them all—Ganesha or Ganapati. Unlike other Hindu gods in the pantheon, the playful Ganesha is known for giving bounties and not for fighting battles and war. He is depicted with laddoos in his hands and not weapons. But for how long is the question. After all, BJP did turn Maryada Purushottam Ram and a devout Hanuman into angry, scowling warrior-like figures.

While the Statue of Unity towers at 597 feet, a 725-feet bronze statue of Lord Ram is coming up in Uttar Pradesh. The renovation of the Kashi corridor and Kedarnath Dham, said to be the abode of Shiva, have also been part of the plan to utilise the ‘gods’ to achieve political goals.

This year the focus shifted to Ganapati. While BJP pulled out all the stops in Maharashtra to put up its banners, buntings and hoardings at Ganapati mandals, Ganesh Utsavas made their appearance in unlikely places like West Bengal, where the party had earlier introduced the celebration of Ram Navami.

The BJP government in Karnataka went to great lengths this year to allow worship of Ganesha at the Idgah Maidan in Bengaluru and in Hubbali. While the Supreme Court eventually stepped in and ordered the status-quo in Bengaluru, the Karnataka High Court allowed the worship to go ahead in Hubbali. Coming close on the heels of the Karnataka government’s stand on headscarves or ‘hijab’ in educational institutions, the stubborn stand of the state government on Ganesh Utsavs at Idgahs seemed motivated by political and electoral considerations. In southern states, especially Tamil Nadu, the Sangh Parivar has been striving to appropriate Shiva.

The JNU Vice Chancellor’s seemingly casual comment that none of the Hindu gods is a Brahmin and that Shiva in all probability was a ‘Chandal’ who frequented burning ghats (shamshan) is also interpreted as an outreach to Dalits as ‘Hindus’.

This year the focus shifted to Ganapati in Maharashtra. While BJP leaders are said to have splurged enormous sums of money in putting up banners, buntings and hoardings at the mandals— each costing between Rs 5,000 to Rs 200,000—the irony is that much of it went to the mandals put up by Shiv Sena ‘shakhas’. Conservative estimates put the figure spent on such political advertisements in Mumbai alone at Rs 100 crore. Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation had permitted 2,425 ‘mandals’ in the city.

The ostentatious public celebrations were in sharp contrast to much more subdued celebrations at home by people affected by price-rise and unemployment. But the lack of excitement in housing societies was somewhat compensated by the spectacle of the chief minister and the deputy chief minister hopping from one society to another.

“The festival has become totally politicised. I have never seen anything like this in my entire life. It is more of a race to show who practises hardcore Hindutva better, especially among the Sena factions and BJP,” says veteran political analyst Hemant Desai.

Political commentator Surendra Jondhale also says that Mumbai has never before seen a chief minister or his deputy criss-cross the city, racing to cover as many Ganpati mandals as possible, including small households. “This is in view of the BMC elections,” he adds.

BMC is up for grabs because of its annual budget of Rs 45,949 crore, which is bigger than the annual budgets of several smaller states. BJP in 2017 narrowly missed gaining control of BMC despite the then chief minister Devendra Fadnavis doing everything to defeat its then ally in government. This year the party is again in power in the state and is determined to grab control of the BMC which has been controlled by the Shiv Sena since 1985 barring the five-year period between 1992 and 1997.

Being an ally BJP jointly controlled the BMC with the Sena, diluting its litany of grievances it is busy rattling now.

The Shiv Sena led by Uddhav Thackeray however is not far behind. The Parel-Lalbaug belt in Mumbai, described as the epicentre of the Ganpati festival has been visited by lakhs of devotees and the top Sena leaders.

Shiv Sena legislator Ajay Chaudhary says BJP is ‘opportunistic’. “They are throwing money at mandals as they have plenty of it. But festivals don’t run this way. They just have BMC elections on mind. These BJP politicians will not be seen after the election,” says Chaudhary, who is also the Shiv Sena leader in Maharashtra assembly, a position occupied by Eknath Shinde. Poor Lord Ganesha is being pulled in all directions by politicians in this competitive Hindutva practised like never before.

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