Maharashtra: Day after BJP protests over temple reopening, MNS workers defy ban to celebrate 'Dahi Handi' festival

By PTI

THANE: Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS) workers celebrated the traditional ‘Dahi Handi’ festival in Thane and neighbouring Palghar district, even though the celebrations have been banned in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The popular festival organised during ‘Gokulashtami’, which attracts a lot of crowds, is being observed on Tuesday.

Around Monday midnight, a large number of MNS activists, including women, gathered at Naupada in Thane city and hung a ‘dahi handi’ (an earthen pot filled with curd) at a height in the area.

They formed a pyramid and a woman activist climbed atop and broke the curd pot.

The city police later took five party activists into custody for defying the prohibitory orders, an official said.

The MNS activists also had an argument with the police when they tried to stop them.

MNS Thane-Palghar unit chief Avinash Jadhav, who was arrested earlier in the day for holding a protest over their demand for allowing Dahi Handi celebrations and later released, was present during the event held late at night.

A number of party activists also organised similar celebrations in Thane’s Vartak Nagar and in Nalla Sopara area of adjoining Palghar district late Monday night.

Talking to reporters, Jadhav claimed the Shiv Sena came to power by bagging Hindu votes, but had betrayed the community by prohibiting its functions.

He said they would celebrate the festival, irrespective of the ban.

Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray last week told organisers of the Dahi Handi festival that the state should set an example by setting aside celebration of festivals for some time to get rid of the coronavirus completely.

He had said the health of citizens should be given priority during a pandemic.

Workers, senior leaders and former ministers from the opposition BJP on Monday staged protests in several cities in Maharashtra against the MVA government’s stand to not reopen temples which remain shut due to COVID-19 restrictions.

At many places, social distancing norms were not adhered to during demonstrations, while an FIR was filed against former minister Sudhir Mungantiwar and party workers in Mumbai for violating COVID-19 rules.

The protests, organised by the Aadhyatmik Aghadi (spiritual wing) of the BJP, were held in Pune, Mumbai, Thane, Palghar, Nashik, Nagpur, Pandharpur, Aurangabad and other places where agitators rang bells and blew conches.

In Mumbai, Mungantiwar led a demonstration at the famous Babulnath temple.

However, the Gamdevi police briefly detained the senior BJP leader and party workers and stopped them from going near the temple, officials said.

Mungantiwar later told reporters that temples were open in the rest of the country, but not in Maharashtra.

Queried about the Union government’s guidelines asking states to ensure that public gatherings are avoided in view of the upcoming festivals and possibility of a third coronavirus wave, he shot back asking, “Did the Centre ask to allow liquor shops to function and close temples? Did the state government take action against Shiv Sainiks who protested against Union minister Narayan Rane? Mungantiwar said people fully vaccinated against coronavirus are allowed to board suburban trains in Mumbai and same rule can be applied in case of entry in temples.

“Local trains are open for fully vaccinated people. Why the same criterion cannot be applied and temples reopened?” he asked.

According to an official, Mungantiwar and over 30 party workers were detained by the Gamdevi police and later an FIR was registered against them for violating COVID-19 norms and under relevant sections of the IPC.

Another BJP leader Ram Kadam was taken into custody from his residence in suburban Khar in Mumbai when he was preparing to head to the famous Siddhivinayak Temple in Prabhadevi to take part in a protest, he said.

Protests were also held in Thane and Palghar districts neighbouring Mumbai wherein BJP workers blew conches and rang bells.

Holding placards and banners demanding reopening of temples, they shouted slogans against the state government at various places.

Meanwhile, activists of the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS) staged a protest in Thane city against the state government’s decision to not allow Dahi Handi celebrations on Tuesday.

Maharashtra Congress spokesman Sachin Sawant, however, lashed out at the BJP saying the saffron party is “playing with the lives of devotees and don’t care for the Central government’s directives”.

“People should be cautious and stay away from leaders and workers of the BJP as they may be carriers of coronavirus. Chandrakant Patil and others didn’t wear face masks,” he claimed.

In Pune and Aurangabad, BJP workers tried to force their way into closed temples, but were stopped by the police.

Maharashtra BJP president Chandrakant Patil, who led the protest in Pune city outside the famous Kasba Ganpati temple, questioned the state government’s rationale behind allowing liquor and other shops to function but not extending the similar relaxation to temples and other places of worship.

“Is fear of a projected third wave of the pandemic doesn’t apply for liquor outlets and other shops? Does coronavirus talk to them (the government) and says it will strike only if temples are reopened ?” asked Patil, a former minister.

He alleged Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray was not allowing temples to reopen to “please his allies who do not believe in God and want to receive votes from minorities”.

“If temples are not reopened people will not be able to control their sentiments anymore and will break open locks of temples to take blessings of deities.

We are not agitating only for Hindus, our agitation is for people of all faiths,” Patil said.

Pune Mayor Murlidhar Mohol wondered why temples are not allowed to reopen when hotels, public transport, malls etc are allowed to operate by the government.

“Livelihood of thousands depend on temples but the state government, which has failed to handle the COVID-19 situation, is playing with the religious sentiments of the people and that is why BJP is agitating in the state to demand reopening of temples,” he said.

In the temple town of Pandharpur in Solapur district, BJP workers staged a protest, following which they were detained, said additional superintendent of police Atul Zende, Solapur rural police.

In Nagpur in east Maharashtra, BJP workers blew conches at various temples as part of the “Shankhnaad” protest and appealed to the state government to reopen temples in the next seven days failing which they will reopen temples.

BJP leader and former Maharashtra minister Chandrashekhar Bawankule participated in a protest held at the famous Koradi temple in Nagpur.

“Reopening of temples is a demand of 12 crore people of Maharashtra. Social activist Anna Hazare has also said that he will join a protest for this cause. Temples across India are open except in Maharashtra. If the state government fails to reopen temples within the next seven days, BJP would reopen them,” he said.

BJP spokesperson Chandan Goswami said the “Shankhnaad” protest was held at more than 150 temples in the Vidarbha region.

In Aurangabad city in the Marathwada region, BJP workers said they will reopen temples during the Ganesh festival next month.

Taking a dig at the Shiv Sena, BJP MLA Atul Save questioned its “Hindutva”, saying temples are open in other states except in Maharashtra where Sena is in power.

“And they call themselves ‘Hindutvawadi’ (pro-Hindu),” he wondered.

“The government doesn’t consider feelings of Hindu devotees. Liquor shops, bars are open. The Shravan month is considered sacred for Hindus but temples remained shut. If the government fails to reopen temples, BJP workers will enter temples with devotees to take darshan of deities,” Save told reporters.

Aurangabad district president Sanjay Kenekar termed the MVA as a ‘Talibani’ government.

“The state government speaks of secularism on one hand and the other hand, Namaz is allowed. But Hindus are not allowed to take darshan in temples. This is a Taliban government,” he alleged.

Meanwhile, Maharashtra reported 3,741 new coronavirus cases and 52 fresh fatalities on Monday, taking the infection tally to 64,60,680 and the toll to 1,37,209, a state health department official said.

The official said 4,696 patients were discharged from hospitals across the state in the last 24 hours, taking the cumulative number of recovered patients to 62,68,112.

The state, which now has 51,834 active cases, has 2,88,489 people in home isolation and another 2,299 in institutional quarantine, he said.

Maharashtra’s COVID-19 recovery rate stands at 97.02 per cent, while the fatality rate is 2.12 per cent.

The cumulative number of coronavirus tests conducted in the state climbed to 5,38,12,827, of with 1,63,214 were conducted in the last 24 hours, the official said.

Coronavirus tests are generally low over the weekends as compared to other days and this translates into a drop in positive cases on Mondays.

Eight districts namely Dhule, Jalgaon, Hingoli, Akola, Yavatmal, Wardha, Gondia, Chandrapur, and six municipal corporations – Dhule, Jalgaon, Malegaon,Parbhani, Nanded and Chandrapur (their urban centres) – did not report any fresh COVID-19 cases in the last 24 hours, he said.

The official said Ahmednagar district reported the highest 770 new infections, followed by Satara at 446, while Solapur was the only district in the state that reported deaths in double digits at 19.

Among the eight regions of Maharashtra (comprising multiple districts), the Pune region reported the highest cases at 1,512 followed by 888 in Nashik.

Among the other regions, the Mumbai region reported 650 new cases, Kolhapur 521, Latur 113, Aurangabad 27, Akola 21 and the Nagpur region nine, the official said.

According to the official, among the 52 fatalities from the eight regions, the highest 22 were reported from Pune followed by 14 from the Mumbai region.

Significantly, Akola and Aurangabad regions did not report any fresh fatalities, while the Kolhapur region reported 12 deaths, Latur 2 and Nashik and Nagpur regions one each.

The official said Mumbai registered 333 new COVID-19 cases and two deaths, while Pune city reported 168 infections, but no fresh fatality.

Among the 51,834 active cases in the state, Pune district has the highest at 12,717, according to the official.

He said among the 62,68,112 recovered patients across the state, the highest – 10,85,720 – were from Pune district.

Coronavirus figures for Maharashtra are as follows: Total cases 64,60,680; new cases 3,741; total deaths 1,37,209; recoveries 62,68,112; active cases 51,834; total tests 5,38,12,827.