Agra/Mathura: Ascetics, leaders of the Samajwadi Party and state tourism minister Om Prakash Singh were among those who boycotted MP Hema Malini’s two-day Mathura Mahotsava, saying the event was exclusively for VIPs. More than 2,000 non-resident Indians, businessmen and Bollywood personalities were in attendance on Sunday, the second day of the event. Many local people said they were denied entry to the venue. Farmers in protest burnt effigies of BJP MP Hema Malini right outside the venue of the event.
Many local people said they did not understand the need for Bollywood actors to be called in to dance at a time when farmers in distress over damaged crops were committing suicide. The event, held at the premises of NGO Akshay Patra in Vrindavan, had come under criticism even before it began. The MP was blamed for rubbing salt in the wounds of poor farmers, many of whom were in shock over the extent of crop loss in recent months.
“Policemen pushed back farmers and local people who tried to get a glimpse of the festival. Proceeds from the festival were meant to go to farmers in distress in Mathura and Vrindavan. Mahotsavas are usually open to all; only at private events are people kept out. Hema Malini’s bias is clear, even though she claims the event will help farmers,” said Pankaj Baba of Gokul, who has recently launched a campaign called “Yamuna Mukti Andolan”.
Additional district magistrate (finance and revenue) Dheerendra Sachan said permission was granted for the event since it was termed a charitable event. Permission letters, he said, did not mention to whom money collected would be given. The MP, however, has made statements to the effect that proceeds from the event would go to the aid of farmers in the region.
Gurudev Sharma, district head of the Samajwadi Party, said, “Farmers of the area are waiting for ‘achche din’ that Hema Malini promised. Is this the way she is bringing us the good days? She could organize this event in Mumbai and donate the money collected there to farmers. Why hold this in Mathura? The aim of the festival is to bring NRIs to Mathura and get the land and plots sold.”
Artistes in Braj wondered how the art and culture of the region could possibly be promoted by a festival propped up by Bollywood, leaving no room for local performers. Damodar Sharma, a prominent Braj folk singer, said, “Local people have no place here; this is a Bombaiyya programme.”
Naresh Narain, a cultural critic of the area, said the programme bordered on vulgarity. “The anchor, Sonu Sood, showed that he knew nothing of Braj. He talked rather offensively of Radha-Krishna, using words like “ladkiyan patina”. Such programmes can only bring bad name to the land of Krishna.”
Among the prominent people who attended were senior BJP leader LK Advani and yesteryear actor Dharmendra. Advani urged the residents of Mathura and Vrindavan to continue voting for actor-politician Hema Malini. Jaya Bachchan too was present at the event, representing the UP government.