Lokmanya Tilak initiated public ganesh festivals with the noble intent of creating a forum for people to come together and work for the nation’s independence. However, I am sure Tilak would have been saddened to see the avatar that his creation has taken today. Although the festival celebrated in each home is still vibrant and fun, the public festivals are loud, rowdy, political and disconnected from the ordinary masses. The demerits are endless while the benefits are a handful. Also it doesn’t end with just the 10 days of the festival, as even throughout the year the idols are placed in cabins that almost always are on encroached public land, in most cases footpaths. At times I even feel like writing to the Tilak family, saying “Please stop this thing you’ve started!”.
Unfortunately that won’t work. The fact is that ganesh mandals today are well established, used to getting their way and enjoy support from some political party or the other. So sweeping measures like banning the mandals from using public property are not going to work. Also a ban will face stiff resistance and will only result in burnt down PMT buses. Over the last decade or so, we have all experienced that the products and services that have improved have been those where healthy competition has emerged. So why not learn from this experience and create a parallel, planned and well organized version of the public ganesh festival that will compete with the public festival on the street? We can keep writing and complaining about all that’s wrong with the public ganesh festivals but that’s unlikely to make much difference. Why not instead toss ideas on how the ganesh festival could be revamped? I am sure many ideas might seem fanciful, but unless we start discussing and working on a way out of the mess we will only see things going from bad to worse.
(Cont…Click the scanned article image on the left). Published as part of my column for the Maharashtra Herald that’s published on alternate Saturdays )