What is Saifai Mahotsav which has attracted criticism from all the corners? Here is a brief attempt to explain the festival and its political importance:
Why is Saifai Mahotsav organized?
Saifai is a small village in Etawah, which is Samajwadi Party supremo Mulayam Singh Yadav’s strong hold. It is touted as a village which attained unparalleled heights in arts, craft and culture during the time of Mughals.
In the year 1997, then Block Pramukh of Saifai, Ranveer Singh Yadav started a festival to celebrate the art and culture of the area and named it as, ‘Saifai Mahotsav’. Ranveer Singh Yadav was cousin of erstwhile UP Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav. Ranveer died an untimely death in 2002 and thus no festival was observed that year as a mark of respect for him. Saifai Mahotsav was re-started after an year and named as ‘Ranveer Singh Smriti Saifai Mahotsav’.
How political is Saifai Mahotsav?
Saifai Mahotsav which is often defended by Samajwadi Party as a cultural extravaganza to promote art and craft in the state is actually far from a neutral festival. It is a both a political tool and statement which is used by the party to uphold and assert Yadav clan’s hegemony. The festival is well attended by the political stalwarts of the Yadav family. It also has top Bollywood stars performing at the festival with Akshay Kumar and Hrithik Roshan figuring on the list of past performers. The presence of Bollywood stars of this stature points towards the political clout of the Yadavs. Etawah, the place where Saifai falls has been electing its Member of Parliament from Samajwadi party from the past three general elections.
Is it always this pompous?
Yes. Even when Samajwadi Party is not in power, Saifai Mahotsav still manages to steal the show. In the year 2012, Bipasha Basu performed at the festival and in 2009, Hrithik Roshan.
Star performances are USP of the show which came under a threat after Amar Singh left SP. Amar Singh managed to get film stars perform at the Mahotsav due to his contacts in the industry but slowly the festival has regained its stars.
What Dedh Ishqiya has to do with Saifai Mahotsav?
This year, Mulayam Singh Yadav has announced tax-free shows for Dedh Ishqiya in the state. Generally films which have patriotic flavours get such tax-breaks from the state governments but the reason given for this gesture by Yadav is that considerable portions of the film have been shot in Lucknow.
How can the Samajwadi party get away with such a show in face of the political costs it imposes?
Saifai is not a typical village, it has an airstrip and a stadium for its population of a mere 30,000. The Mahotsav too has changed from an art and culture celebration to a fortnight of political mudslinging and Bollywood performances. The reason why such a show of money by the Samajwadi party will not cost it politically is because assembly elections are still away. Uttar Pradesh will see assembly elections now only in 2017. The controversy around the Mahotsav may have snow-balled into a big issue this year but in no time will the government bounce back from it. Another reason is that the other alternative to Samajwadi Party also has its hand dirty over such naked show of power and money. According to some political observers, the misfortune of UP is that one CM makes parks, the other Mahotsav!