In Delhi, even Raksha Bandhan is politics
It is a secular festival we are told, practiced by Indians of all faiths, celebrating the bond between brother and sister.
Raksha Bandhan is a festival mainly celebrated in North India; or maybe a better way to phrase that would be a festival celebrated mostly by North Indians living all across India. And, those influenced by Bollywood. Everybody celebrates festivals the way Bollywood tells us to.
Whether you like it or not, there is Karva Chauth in Chennai and Raksha Bandhan in Gangtok and, there is Godh Bharai in Ichalkaranji. Yash Chopra, Karan Johar and Ekta Kapoor have defined rituals more than generations of yogis and rishis have. Seriously.
Rakhis have to have bling. Karva Chauth Chalnis (sieves) have to have crystals, at the time of Godh Bharai (a festival to celebrate pregnancy). Women have to look like Christmas trees, men have to wear kurtas which look more like upholstery fabric, mothers and mothers-in-law have to carry pooja thalis around laden with yellow laddus.
And Rakhee music has to be overly sentimental. There just has to be to be sappy maudlin songs playing in the background "behna ne bhai ki kalai pe pyar..." or "bhaiyya mere rakhi ke bandhan ko nibhana."
And then, if you are a journalist, then Raksha Bandhan means a whole different experience. Elbowing your way into a room to grab a shot of Mayawati tying a Rakhi to Lalji Tandon of the BJP in 1995, and then, seeing her forget all about that fake sibling relationship once she became chief minister.
In 2002, Mayawati landed up to tie a Rakhi once more, trying to rework a political alliance with the BJP via the festival. The sibling relationship that she had ignored for the interim period was ignored by both Rakhi bhai and Rakhi behanjee.
Bandit Queen and former Member of Parliament Phoolan Devi used to tie a Rakhi on Ram Vilas Paswan's wrist every Raksha Bandhan. That didn't protect her when she was gunned down in broad daylight in the capital, a few yards from BJP leader Rajnath Singh's residence on Ashoka Road. Neither Paswan nor Mulayam Singh Yadav, the brother figures in her life, could protect or save her from her gory end.
Besides these instances, there are any numbers of women politicians who land up at senior male office bearers' homes to tie Rakhis to curry favours. There is no sanctity left in the festival. Very much like the political Iftaar parties that are being held in the capital these days. It is all about being seen in the right places with the right people.
When you live in Delhi, you tend to see everything from a political angle. On Raksha Bandhan Day, kids from underprivileged sections who study in government schools are taken to either the Prime Minister, the President, the Chief Minister, the Leader of the Opposition, or/and some VIP's house to tie Rakhis en masse. The kids get to see for themselves how our VIPs live. In grand Lutyen's bungalows, liveried servants, manicured lawns, water bodies in gardens with fleet of cars in the driveways.
If they are lucky, they are made to wait for about half-an-hour, brisk security checks, one samosa-gulab jamun, a group photograph and back to school.
The V.I.P has done his good deed for the day. Has it run on Doordarshan or some satellite TV channel? At least in the fatafat news segment? At least on page seven of a city newspaper?
Politics and the Raksha Bandhan festival go back a long way. According to one legend, a Rajput princess Karnawati sent a rakhi to the Mughal Emperor Humayun seeking his help to fight against Bahadur Shah, the then ruler of Gujarat. He responded immediately to the Rani's Rakhi request, but it was too late, she had committed Jauhar (self-immolation) on losing the battle.
Raksha Bandhan, like all festivals, brings with it the stress of keeping up with expectations when it comes to offering gifts and performing rituals. From diamond encrusted Rakhis costing up to Rs.50 lakhs to Rakhi discounts on luxury cars costing up to Rs 70 lakhs, there is no limit to what conspicuous consumption is all about during festivals.
The simple tradition of tying a Rakhi in exchange for a sweetmeat is passe it seems. There is always Bollywood to fall back on.