The ongoing Ganesh festival has become a public outreach opportunity for city-based politicians, who are eyeing blessings of both Lord Ganesh and his devotees ahead of an election year.
As both the Lok Sabha and Maharashtra polls are due in 2019, political leaders, especially ticket-aspirants, are making it a point to visit people in their constituencies who have installed Ganesh idols at home, apart from going to several pandals that dot the city during the 11-day festival.
“The idea is just to be seen with voters,” said a worker of a political party in suburban Ghatkopar.
Mumbai has six parliamentary constituencies and 36 Assembly segments.
“During festival period, politicians sometimes reach out to people, sometimes they don’t. But now, since this festival season comes ahead of next year’s polls, leaders are ensuring that they meet people,” said BJP MP Gopal Shetty, who represents the Mumbai North constituency.
Former Rajya Sabha MP and veteran journalist Bharat Kumar Raut said among festivals in Mumbai and Maharashtra, Ganesh festival and Gokulashtami (Dahi Handi) get more political patronage from politicians ahead of elections.
“Plus, Ganesh festival and Dahi Handi are celebrated in public, outside homes. So for local corporators, MLAs and MPs these are important occasions,” Raut said.
The ruling parties are normally more aggressive during such periods in reaching out to people and festival organisers, he observed.
“One remarkable thing this time is that the BJP has overtaken its ally Shiv Sena. How much, it will reflect in voting, but the BJP has taken a lead in campaigning in this way,” Raut said.
A Shiv Sena leader said he visited at least 50 houses in a day to offer prayers to the Ganesh idols installed by people in his constituency.
“I will keep visiting Ganesh pandals till the festival gets over,” he said, requesting anonymity.
Legislators work for people and mingle with them throughout their terms, but “it is more important to be seen with them now”, he said.
“The festival period this year has proffered the right opportunity to carry out public relations exercise,” he said.
An NCP leader, who is eyeing a party ticket, said politicians need not embark on explicit campaigning when they visit people’s homes.
“The polls are still some months away, so we need not speak to people on political issues right now. But the festival helps us interact with people in an informal way, gauge their feelings and work out our campaign strategies accordingly,” he said.
A Congress leader said several Ganesh mandals, and before them the Dahi Handi organisers, had sought funds from politicians to put up their banners.
“It is not possible to reach every nook and cranny of a parliamentary constituency in the limited festival period. So hoisting banners/ hoardings is another way to ensure that people see the politician during the festival time,” he said.
Ganesh festival will be followed by Navratri, which too is celebrated with enthusiasm across Mumbai and its surrounding areas, and it will offer a similar “public relations” opportunity to leaders, he added.