Gujarat in festive mood, politics can wait

By Rajeev Khanna, IANS

Ahmedabad : It was not long ago that the Gujarat assembly election schedule was eagerly awaited here, but as soon as the announcement was made the state seems to have put politics aside and picked up dandiyas as the festival season has overshadowed poll preparations.

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People and party workers alike are engrossed with the Navaratri festivities that will culminate on Dussehra Sunday, only to pave the way for Diwali next month. Politics will pick up only a week after the festival of lights.

In Gujarat the festivities start with Janmashtami, celebrating the birth of Lord Krishna and the season goes on for about three months.

With the Navaratri celebrations, people are busy dancing all night long to the beats of the Garba and the Dandiya.

Instead of political meetings ahead of the crucial electoral battle on Dec 11 and 16, party workers and functionaries are busy with pre-Diwali shopping.

Be it Ahmedabad, Vadodara, Surat or Rajkot, the focus of the Gujarati populace right now is on eating, dancing and merry-making.

This year the Mulsim festival of Eid-ul-Fitr also coincided with Navaratri, adding to the revelries.

Unlike some parts of the country where Eid is marked just as a culmination of the holy month of Ramadan and the festivities are confined to the first day of the month of Shawwal, Gujarat extends the celebrations till the next Jumma, that is, Friday.

The Eid fever was the most visible on the streets of the Muslim-dominated parts of Godhra, about 130 km from here.

Shops remained closed and most people were seen at the eateries in Polan Bazar and Signal Falia – areas that mainly find mention in media reports as trouble spots after the Feb 27, 2002, train burning tragedy in the town which sparked statewide communal violence.

Ramzani Jujhara, a resident of Godhra, said: “This is the only time people get some respite from their daily struggle for survival. Since a majority of the residents are too poor to go on an outstation holiday, they just remain at home with their families.”

Gujarat’s Navaratri, or the festival of nine nights of worshipping goddess Durga, has a unique culture and economy associated with it.

Dance academies start doing brisk business a month in advance with people of all age groups coming to learn the Garba steps. Even those who know the dance well come to learn the latest footsteps.

A whole new range of Garba audio collections hit the market a month before the festival and their sales run into millions of rupees.

Then there is a huge industry of special traditional apparels for Garba. The chaniya-cholis worn by women can cost anywhere from a few hundred rupees to thousands. The same goes for the traditional dresses meant for men. To participate in a Garba/Dandiya event, the traditional attire is obligatory.

Booking of grounds for organising Garbas, renting out space for eateries and even arranging for parking are all part of the Garba economics. And so are the troupes, bands and artistes that perform at the Garba venues.

“How can anyone even think of politics in such a situation? It’s time to earn and also to make merry. There will be enough time to listen to what the politicians have to say,” said Yogesh Patel, a trader in the Bodakdev area of Ahmedabad.

Since there is little scope of finding audiences, politicians have started Garba-hopping as an image-building exercise. Many of them have also sponsored prizes for the winners of Garba and Dandiya competitions.

As drums fall silent after Sunday, the focus will shift to the series of festivals in the run-up to Diwali and the holidays that follow – the day after Diwali is the Gujarati New Year’s Day.

Electioneering is expected to pick up only after Labh Pancham, the fifth day after Diwali, when shops and traditional markets reopen for the new year.