It was a perfect opening that the BJP was looking for in order to expand its base. The Telangana government’s move to ban processions and erection of pandals during Ganesh Chaturthi festivities, in the wake of COVID-19 pandemic, has provided the much-needed ammunition for the saffron party to spark a political battle.
Losing no time in seizing the opportunity, the BJP has accused the Telangana Rashtra Samithi (TRS) government of hurting the sentiments of Hindus by imposing restrictions on celebrating their festivals.
The government had announced that no permission would be given for the public celebration of the festival by erecting Ganesha mandaps (pandals) in every street of the city as has been the practice for decades. The decision was taken keeping in view the rapidly spreading COVID-19 cases in the state, particularly in Hyderabad.
As Ganesh pandals with large gatherings will become virus hotspots, the officials are taking all possible steps to arrest its spread. There will be no huge loudspeakers, no gatherings, and no colourful lighting.
However, the city BJP MLA, T Raja Singh, known for his fiery and provocative speeches, said the people should be allowed to celebrate the festival while following all precautions in view of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“There are reports that the COVID-19 pandemic might continue till next year. Does it mean the government suggests that we stop praying and celebrating till then?” he asked.
Singh, who represents Goshamahal assembly constituency in the city, also pointed out that the restrictions on Ganesh mandaps and the number of idols would hit the idol makers and artistes hard.
Accusing the TRS government of minority appeasement, the BJP legislator wondered why the government had allowed Eid celebrations in a big way.
Waiting in the wings
Though the BJP considers Telangana as a “low-hanging fruit” to expand its footprint in the south, it has been desperately looking for emotive issues that can help the party to galvanise public support.
So far, it has been highlighting the ‘dynasty politics and minority appeasement policies’ of Chief Minister K Chandrasekhar Rao. The government’s inept handling of the COVID-19 pandemic has also provided ammunition for the saffron party to step up its offensive.
Since the Congress is on the throes of an existential crisis, grappling with widespread desertions, the BJP senses an opportunity to emerge as a key challenger to the TRS.
The BJP made surprise gains in the last year’s Lok Sabha elections, bagging four out of the total 17 LS seats—Secunderabad, Karimnagar, Nizamabad and Adilabad–in a state where the party was largely seen as a fringe player. And, the prize catch among them was Nizamabad where the Chief Minister’s daughter K Kavitha was defeated.
The saffron party’s vote share has almost doubled from 10.5 per cent in the 2014 elections to 19.4 per cent in 2019. This has emboldened the party to take on the TRS government more aggressively. In the 2018 assembly polls, it could win just one seat in the 119-member House and polled just 7 per cent votes.
“Telangana provides a perfect political setting for BJP to repeat its West Bengal strategy. Like in Bengal, the BJP will be looking for Hindu consolidation by harping on TRS’ friendly ties with the AIMIM (All India Majlis Ittehadul Muslimeen) and its Muslim appeasement policies,” political analyst Dr K Nageswar said.
The imminent restrictions of Ganesh Chaturthi festivities, starting later this week, are being opposed both by BJP leaders and also by the Bhagyanagar Ganesh Utsav Samithi, an NGO which coordinates the celebrations.
The Utsav Samithi has given a call to the people to celebrate the festival with usual fanfare even while strictly observing the COVID-19 guidelines on social distancing while performing the rituals and installing the pandals.
The general secretary of the Samithi, Dr Bhagwanth Rao, urged the government to permit the erecting of Ganesh mandaps in apartment complexes, function halls and residential colonies.
“There is no need to take any permission from the police for installation of the idols, but just an intimation to the local police station is enough,” he said and urged Home Minister Mohammad Mahmud Ali to communicate the message to all police stations.
He appealed to devotees to strictly follow COVID-19 guidelines at the pandals. “At any point of time, not more than five persons would be present at the mandap maintaining social distance. Use of masks and sanitisers is a must,” he said.
However, Hyderabad police commissioner Anjani Kumar said no idol installation or any event would be allowed to be held at public places and asked the people to perform Ganesh puja at home.
The centralised immersion procession of Ganesha idols at the end of 11-day festivities is one of the biggest annual events of the city and draws thousands of visitors.
The government makes massive arrangements for the centralised Ganesh Nimajjan procession up to Hussain Sagar lake every year, but due to COVID-19 pandemic, it has advised the organisers to confine the programme to their respective local areas.
“As per the traditions, immersion has to be done only in natural waters like rivers and tanks, but not in buckets and tubs as suggested by the government,” the Samithi organiser argued.