Will the real Shiv Sena please stand up… now that Uddhav, like Elvis, has left the building? Unfortunately, “Gondhal”, the dramatic and highly energetic ritualistic folk-dance form from Maharashtra, is “out of fashion” in today’s disco age. The origin of Gondhal, say scholars, goes back to Karnataka when the Kalyani Chalukya King Someshwara III (1126- 1138 CE), author of Manasollasa, systematically documented the dances performed by the Bhils and called them Chitra Gondhalis. It travelled to Maharashtra and was patronised by the Peshwas, who had invited the richly-dressed Gondhalis to all-night performances in the hope of warding off the evil eye. These “neglected nomads”, mostly male, are still around, mainly in the Marathwada region. The “nayak” wearing an elaborate zari turban leads the troupe, with “possessed” women letting their hair down (literally) and swaying rhythmically to invoke the goddess. A “Gondhal” performance should be instantly scheduled at the Mantralaya in Mumbai to exorcise the demons and ghosts still lurking in the corridors of power.
In popular terminology, the word “gondhal” means confusion. It is similar to the Hindi word “Golmal”. Remember the lyrics of the title song of the Hrishikesh Mukherjee film by the same name -- Seedhi raaste ki ye tedhi hi chaal hai…”
Eknath Shinde’s rise from an autorickshaw driver to the chief minister of Maharashtra reads like a movie script.
He was forced to drop out of school in Thane after Class 11 on account of poverty. He managed to complete his BA degree in 2020 with the help of a correspondence course. Commendable, indeed! Shinde watchers insist that he is “frugal” with words and camera shy. Well, they said that about former CM Uddhav Thackeray too. And they say that about the current deputy chief minister Devendra Fadnavis as well. As the old chestnut goes -- a husband is the last one to know when a wife is cheating on him. Allegedly, Devendra Fadnavis was equally in the dark about his brand-new appointment as deputy CM. What does one call this tactic? An ambush? Stealth attack? Fait accompli?
Our netas wear multiple hats and turbans. But this latest googly has left a lot of seasoned political commentators agog. Quite a come down for Mr Fadnavis, and a come uppance for Mr Shinde. A strange way to reward loyalty, right, Deputy CM ji?
The unlikely “jodi” of both these men (Shinde and Fadnavis) is expected to clean up and undo all the “gondhal” and “golmal” left behind by the previous Maha Vikas Aghadi administration. For starters, they have decided to bulldoze through the designated forest part of Sanjay Gandhi National Park at Aarey, and build a “Metro shed” spread over a whopping 25 hectares. To hell with environmentalists and Uddhav. This ajeeb duo comes with a reputation for being “doers” not just talkers. Their no-nonsense approach has countless detractors as well, especially from the displaced lot, busy licking their wounds and left powerless (or Pawar-less) after this neat coup.
I looked hard at the photographs of Maharashtra’s newest chief minister, and was amused by the spectacle. There’s freshly minted CM Eknath Shinde arriving at Mantralaya for the swearing-in, red tilak and all. And there are his faithful followers from the breakaway group, sporting saffron headgear and looking triumphant as they acknowledge the cheers of the faithful. Pheta, pagdi and turban politics are not new to desi politics. Fancy dress parades to make a point started with Indira Gandhi inviting camera crews to photograph her in Naga gear, as she danced with our brethren from the Northeast. Other netas promptly mimicked her and played “follow the leader”, unashamed of the entirely ludicrous sham.
What has left ordinary folks bewildered is how easy it was to get rid of Uddhav and Co and to defang the SS “tigers”. What happened to the entrenched bunch of stakeholders? The people in the builders’ lobby, known to be close to the Thackerays? And why is nobody talking about Rashmi’s passive acceptance of the well-orchestrated “rebellion” that saw Mr Shinde walk away with her husband’s gaadi? Rashmi, the low- key, soft-spoken wife of Uddhav, is known for her political acumen and behind-the-scenes manoeuvres. Some say she is the real strategist and brains behind the party’s political haggling. It is Rashmi, the ambitious wife and mother, who is seen as the real power behind her husband, keen on keeping the legacy alive, via her son. How come she was caught napping when the knives were out and a massive rebellion brewing? Who missed reading, intercepting and acting on the signals? Rashmi? Uddhav? Or Aaditya?
As the twentieth chief minister of one of the most powerful states in India, all eyes are on the bearded Eknath Shinde. Along with “Gondhal”, the state has another equally vibrant and colourful folk tradition – tamasha! For those of you who have never watched our tamasha artists performing on stage, do catch them on YouTube. Tamasha provides a blistering commentary on matters social and political, with a rustic script that doesn’t pull any punches. One of my favorites is “Navra ek… bayko anek” (One husband… many wives), performed in the robust tamasha tradition. The situation in Maharashtra is a little like this song which mocks “marriage” while raising a key question: who’s the boss?? We have a former chief minister, demoted to playing deputy chief minister. There are all the other shadowy string pullers in the wings, calling the shots -- surreptitiously but surely.
Mumbai during the monsoons is a nightmare for any administration. All the claims and promises of the Shiv Sena-controlled BMC fall flat with the first downpour, as they did this week. Year after year, Mumbaikars meekly put up with flooded streets, overflowing drains, house collapses and a complete disruption of daily life. Throw in a few deaths, train tracks under waist deep water, an airport with rivers on the tarmac, landslides on treacherous ghats blocking traffic for hours, schools and offices shut … all this disruption with zero accountability, forget penalty. We have one of the world’s wealthiest municipal corporations awaiting fresh elections after the monsoon. It is our money in those coffers. We should be the ones demanding answers and insisting on prompt action. If we have failed to assert ourselves, it is our own bloody fault.
Eknath Ji… It’s time to win over the state. Instill confidence. Show us you care. Remember -- you work for all of us Maharashtrians. Not just for your political patrons in Nagpur.