Political ‘leela’ of Dasara celebrations

Madhusudhana Rao S

The country is celebrating Dasara or Vijayadasami with religious fervor and traditional pomp and gaiety. What’s unique about this festival is, every state celebrates Navratri in its own way. While Gujaratis rejoice with nightly garba and dandiya dances for nine days, Kannadigas celebrate it in traditional ways and the highlight is the spectacular Mysore Dasara festival. In the two Telugu states, Dasara has a special place in the hearts of the people. This year festive spirit in Telangana is palpable for two reasons. One, Dasara coincided with  Bathukamma festival; two, the state government has effected reorganization of districts by increasing them from  10 to 31, choosing Vijayadasami as the day for ‘heralding a new era.’

If we leave aside religious importance and dozens of mythological lore that stress the significance of Navratri, the essence of the festival is triumph of good over evil. All the characters in the stories woven around Vijayadasami – Gods, Goddesses and demons – are symbolic of good and bad in the world. And, the moral at the end of their confrontations and battles is victory will always be on the righteous and virtuous side.

For centuries, generations of pundits and the elderly have been imploring the masses and family members to learn and draw inspiration from this ‘eternal truth.’ Still they do on hundreds of TV channels in all the local languages. But what used to be a predominantly religious-cultural event has got a new twist and spin in the hands of political leaders. The values pundits used to preach have been replaced by political rhetoric laced with mythological lore and contemporary developments. Mythological figures and deities take political avatars on public platforms, personifying heroes and villains. They are invoked to impress upon the people how even today our leaders could be likened to hallowed characters.

To do that, what better occasion is there than the traditional Dasara celebrations? This year, Prime Minister Narendra Modi is the toast of the festival. The recent surgical strikes against terrorist launch pads in occupied Kashmir have turned him a giant slayer. Notwithstanding the raging controversy over the nature of cross-border raids and Pakistan’s unabashed denials, BJP leaders’ chest-thumping and their bragging about the secret mission, the central theme of concluding Dasara celebrations is India’s perceived triumph over Pak-backed terrorists (on a limited scale?).

But the most watched and commented upon is Modi’s Lucknow visit. His participation in Ram Leela at Aishbagh and watching the customary burning of Ravana effigies is a break with the tradition of prime ministers attending the fireworks and celebrations at Ram Leela grounds in New Delhi. A lot of political significance is attached to his love for Lucknow event. Uttar Pradesh Assemby elections are round the corner and the Dasara events has come handy for Modi to sound his party bugle.

Not to be missed is the symbolism attached to burning of   effigies of Ravana, portrayed as an incarnation of evil. Not surprisingly, the welcome poster that adorned the streets of UP capital to greet Modi have portrayed him as an avatar to root out evil in graphic detail. If one cares to read between the lines, the message to UP voters is clear: Choose between good (read BJP) and bad (all the opposition parties put together).

In Nagpur, BJP’s mentoring organization the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) has used its 91st Foundation Day and Dasara celebrations to reiterate its grand plan of Akhand Bharat. RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat has touched upon every hot topic like Pakistan-supported terrorism, surgical strikes, Kashmir unrest and cow vigilantes. 

In Delhi, Congress vice president Rahul Gandhi and AAP chief and Delhi Chief Minister too have turned up the heat on their political rival Modi at public celebrations of Dasara.

Prime Minister Modi had said this year’s Dasara celebrations were special. Indeed, they are! Nevertheless, the thought for the day is, are we, ordinary people, robbed of the festival’s celebratory spirit by political leaders with selfish motives and to settle their scores?

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