The recent decision of the State government to hold panchayat elections a day after San Joao fest on June 25 has generated a fair amount of angst in a community that loves to celebrate its fests with pomp, gaiety and a touch of liquor. The reason for this twist is that this year the day on which the fest is celebrated will be a dry day on account of the elections which will be held the following day. The general refrain is that voters must be in a sober state of mind when selecting their representatives. The other reason for rendering the day prior to an election as dry is to prevent candidates from distributing free drinks. In the democratic tradition, all this makes sense. But add a fest to the mixture and tempers could run high.
Technically, the election should have been held towards the end of May when the term of all panchayats ends. But the government, for reasons not yet explained to the general public, thought of delaying judgement day by a month. Holding an election during the monsoons is unheard off and the question on everyone’s lips is whether this postponement was predicated by the government’s fear of facing the people, whose mandate it overturned in March. Explanations notwithstanding, this decision has thrown a blanket of gloom over a vibrant and colorful fest.
On the spiritual side, the eating, drinking and revelry that goes on in the name of the saint, is really, quite unsaintly. John the Baptist was a more of a recluse. He wore coarse camel’s hair garment secured by a belt and lived on a diet of wild honey and locusts. A passage in the New Testament says, “John came neither eating nor drinking …,” a clear indication that he was not the socialising type. So a fest where the liquor flows faster than on other days is totally out of character with what the saint stood for. But then, spirituality is no match for a lively, vibrant tradition of fun and frolic.
When the link between San Joao festival and the panchayat polls was raised Chief Minister Manohar Parrikar quipped, “dry days only ban sale of liquor, not consumption of liquor”. But not everyone is going to see it from his standpoint. The Congress has infused the issue with a dose of politics, which at times can be more potent than liquor and the minority community is a little restive. The government would do well the re-think the dates as they are not yet cast in stone. An earlier or later date would make everyone happy, unless there is something deeper going on in the mind of the government.