Maharana Pratap, 16th century ruler of Mewar in present day Rajasthan, is the latest to join the list of personalities-some mythical, some historical and some recent ones - whose birth anniversaries have been declared public holidays in Uttar Pradesh (UP).
A May 6 state government notification says: "Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Mr Akhilesh Yadav has announced 9th May, 2015 - Maharana Pratap anniversary as a public holiday". With this, the count of effective number of holidays in the country's most populous state is 30.
Effective number of holidays has been counted by deducting those on Saturdays and Sundays from the total. For 2015, UP now has a total of 42 declared holidays. Then, there is a list of restricted holidays, from which a government employee can choose any two. Which means 44 days of holidays are available for a government employee. However, 14 of these fall on weekends.
The Samajwadi Party (SP) government led by Yadav had earlier declared December 6, death anniversary of B R Ambedkar, one of the architects of the country's Constitution and the most prominent face of Dalit politics, a public holiday. It was followed by declaring the birth anniversaries of former Prime Minister Chandra Sekhar (April 17), Maharishi Kashyap and Maharishi Nishadraj (April 5) and Hazrat Khwaza Moinuddin Chishti (April 26) as public holidays.
The demand for declaring Maharana Pratap's birthday as a public holiday was reportedly made by a section of SP leaders during the celebration of Chandra Shekhar's birth anniversary last month.
"The politics of competitive symbolism is reaching a level of absurdity. When certain symbols do not work, politicians tend to look for new ones. But the process is endless. Each geographical location or a caste or a community will have personalities to honour. Is the only way left to acknowledge their contribution is by declaring holidays after them?" asks Anand Pradhan of New Delhi-based Indian Institute of Mass Communication.
UP already has public holidays on the birth anniversaries of sage Parashuram, sage Valmiki and former prime minister Chaudhary Charan Singh.
"The inclusion of Maharana Pratap and Chandra Shekhar in this list is with a view to attract Rajputs," observes a Lucknow-based political commentator who did not wish to be named. Rajputs are estimated to constitute eight per cent of the state population and wield considerable influence in nearly one-fourth of 80 Lok Sabha constituencies, say political observers.
Commentators also say taking recourse to symbolism by adopting personalities is not confined to the Samajwadi Party alone. Former UP chief minister Mayawati, too, had declared holidays in honour of some prominent Dalit leaders during her tenure. And recent efforts of the Congress and the Bharatiya Janata Party to celebrate Ambedkar anniversary in their own ways should be seen in that light, they add.
"At a time when the country badly needs economic acceleration for which government departments at all levels must function 24/7, holidays are being declared all too frequently. It is not good. Declaring holidays in honour of prominent personalities must end. If at all we want to acknowledge their contribution, we must work more on those days," says Manindra Nath Thakur of Jawaharlal Nehru University.
Incidentally, in terms of effective number of holidays, UP with 30 holidays is ahead of other states. Bihar, with an effective number of holidays at 28, is close second. In fact, in the month of October, Bihar government offices will remain shut for 6 days at a stretch from 20th of that month.
The number of effective holidays in Tamil Nadu, on the other hand, stands at 17. Maharashtra with a count of 20 is slightly ahead. The count of effective number of holidays in Gujarat is 21.
Central government employees posted in the national capital, on the other hand, have the luxury of 17 gazetted holidays and two from the restricted list of 32. This year, five of the 17 gazetted holidays fall on Saturdays and Sundays. Which means, a central government employee posted in Delhi has 14 effective holidays.
"If you go on expanding the list of public holidays, which is what seems to be happening in Uttar Pradesh, where will you get time for governance. Add Sundays and Saturdays to this expanded list and you have a situation where government office remains shut for days when it could have done a whole lot for people's empowerment. Ultimately, it is going to hurt the people the most," adds Pradhan.