Mumbai: Maharashtra's ruling allies, the Bharatiya Janata Party and the Shiv Sena, have evolved a new strategy to win the hearts of the agitated people of the state's drought-hit regions - by arranging mass-marriages of young couples.
Though both parties are tied in an uneasy wedlock in the Maharashtra government, they have gone their 'separate' ways for performing the mass marriages.
On Saturday (April 16), Shiv Sena President Uddhav Thackeray played 'godfather' and performed the 'kanyadaan' for 244 couples at a lavish mass-marriage organised in Aurangabad.
"The couples were 194 Hindus, eight Muslims, 42 Buddhists and mostly belong to farmers' families from villages in the drought hit Marathwada region of the state," local party MP Chandrakan Khaire told mediapersons.
The marriages were solemnized as per their own religious customs and the Shiv Sena engaged the services of 51 brahmin priests, eight maulvis and 11 bantejis for the couples from various communities.
Maharashtra Governor C.V. Rao was the chief guest at the event in which 244 demure brides and their grinning grooms, accompanied by their family members and close relatives, sought his blessings.
Besides a sumptuous wedding feast, each couple was gifted a set of wedding attire, gold jewelery including a 'mangalsutra' and 76 household items and utensils worth Rs.100,000, Khaire added.
Last year, when Thackeray toured the drought-hit regions, he was moved by the plight of the people and decided to launch the 'Shiv Sena Pramukh Balasaheb Thackeray Kanyadan Yojana' which would organise the all-expenses-paid, multi-religion, mass-marriages.
Not to be outdone, the BJP also organised its own independent mass-marriage ceremony on Sunday (April 17) in Jalna where a whopping 551 shy couples happily tied the knot.
Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis, BJP state President Raosaheb Danve, several cabinet ministers and top party functionaries were present on the occasion to bless the newly-wedded sea of couples in a special marquee erected in the town.
"We received over 700 applications for the mass-marriage function, mostly from poor farmers families. From those, we shortlisted 551. The remaining were rejected on various grounds, including under-aged boys or girls, or applicants with doubtful credentials and the like," said BJP official Mukund Kulkarni.
Elaborate arrangements were in place for the Sunday evening mass-wedding ceremony with a variety of goodies for the marriage feast and ample parking for the invitees, estimated to be over 100,000, and VVIPs et al.
Since January, thousands of families in the drought-hit regions of Marathwada, north Maharashtra and Vidarbha have been forced to either cancel or postpone the wedding plans of their sons/daughters, mainly due to shortage of water and poor financial conditions.
After visiting the drought-hit regions last year, Thackeray announced that the Shiv Sena would shoulder the responsibility of marrying off the eligible boys and girls in the affected regions.
The plan was formalised in December 2015 and the first initiative was kicked off with a mass-marriage for 333 couples in Parbhani on February 28, followed by another for 244 couples on April 16.
Officials from the BJP and Shiv Sena said more such mass-marriage programmes are in the pipeline for other drought-hit districts so that the families are spared of the burden of wedding expenses in these dry, difficult times.
Both parties are making all-out efforts to ensure that the marriages are a glittering affair to remember for the young couples and their families.
After the function, the couples are sent back with bags full of gifts which include the expensive Paithani silk saris, safari suit pieces, basic items of gold jewellery and pricey watches, a 76-piece set of steel utensils and other household stuff.
"The couples should start their new married life together without the tensions and nitty-gritties of setting up a home, so we are giving them a decent start through the giftsÂ…" a Sena official said.
The move has earned praises from farmers' activist Kishore Tiwari, the president of the Vasantrao Naik Sheti Svavlamban Mission, who said getting a daughter married is a major contributory factor to farmers' suicides in the state.
"Many farmers have committed suicide in the past as they could ill-afford to solemnize their daughter's marriage. The government should announce a full-fledged 'kanyadan' scheme like Madhya Pradesh and bear the complete marriage expenses of youth from poor families or farmers," Tiwari urged.
He said that in the current inflationary trends, even low-key marriages in rural areas can set a family back by around Rs.300,000, which is normally borrowed from private sources and when they cannot pay back, the borrowers end their lives.