Big Mac comes to town,Kerala’s lovin’ it

McDonald's opens its first outlet in this Communist bastion,to full house and no protests

Written by Shaju Philip | Kochi | Published: March 31, 2013 2:23 am

It has over-run China,wooed over Saudi Arabia and is eaten in secret by the elite of still-distant North Korea. However,there was one,unsurprising,corner of India that still kept out McDonald’s—that is,till two weeks ago. On March 14,Kerala got its first golden arch.

So far,the brand perceived to be the symbol of US imperialism by the Left,but into its 16th year and 300-plus outlets in India,has had a smooth entry. At the Kochi mall where it made a quiet start,there is a heavy and constant rush of customers. The favourite Piri-Piri spice is locally sourced.

Some would say Big Mac and the small state make an ideal combo. Kerala has one of the highest per capita incomes in the country and spends the highest on food; 5 lakh kilogrammes of chicken are sold daily in the predominantly non-vegetarian state; burgers are sold even in its small bakers’ shops; and the Economic Survey 2012 showed that the service sector,including the hotel industry,was the main engine of the state’s growth.

Despite this,McDonald’s had so far been absent in this Communist bastion. In contrast,McDonald’s,one of the largest fast food chains in the world,has 63 stores in the other three states of south India—Tamil Nadu,Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka.

DYFI (Democratic Youth Federation of India) all-India president M B Rajesh,who is a CPM MP,claimed the entry of McDonald’s into Kerala had not come to his notice. “We are still ideologically opposed to American imperialism and its symbols. However,it is impractical to oppose a US firm in Kerala alone. We had opposed Coke when the US was waging war on Iraq. When the situation arises,we are not reluctant to oppose Coke,” said Rajesh.

State Planning Board member and leader of the rebel Communist Marxist Party C P John sees it as another sign of the CPM’s strategy of convenience in its anti-imperialist agitations. “Pinarayi Vijayan,who had protested against Rupert Murdoch’s entry into Kerala media,had no qualms giving a flamboyant send-off to his confidant John Brittas from the party-controlled TV channel to the same Murdoch venture,” John noted.

He added that the CPM had not held any agitation on several issues in recent times,only joining protests held by social groups or ultra-Left elements. Warning against seeing the CPM silence on the McDonald’s issue as a signal of change,John said: “They are waiting to strike according to their convenience. The CPM had invited Coke to invest in Kerala. Later,the same party had called for a boycott of Coke products.”

According to K Ajayan,editor of Malayalam quarterly People Against Globalisation,the CPM was now practising a politics of surrender at the cost of aggressive resistance. Without understanding the politics of imperialism in the changed scenario and breaking the conventional way of weak resistance,the Left could not march forward,he said.

CPM and its young DYFI cadres are still known to paint public spaces in Kerala with the iconic image of Che Guevara as a symbol of anti-imperialism. In 2008,when Murdoch’s Star TV took stake in Kerala’s Asianet Communications,Vijayan had warned: “It should not be seen as a mere takeover. They want to change our society.”

When pointed out that US brands had faced protests from Left and Muslim organisations in the past,Amit Jatia,the vice-president of Hardcastle Restaurants Pvt Ltd that has McDonald’s franchise in the south and west,said they were not worried.

“We have not faced any such issues at all. We are overwhelmed by the customer support,which has surpassed our expectations,” Jatia said,adding,“Two more outlets would be opened in Kerala this year. When McDonald’s goes to a city,the strategy is to maximise the reach in that city and then move to another market.”

No Mac’s Land: Now just a few

Iceland: McDonald’s pulled out of Iceland in 2009 after 16 years because of rising costs of importing ingredients. For a kilo of onion,Icelanders were paying the equivalent of a bottle of good whiskey.

Bolivia: In 2002,after five years,the familiar yellow sign folded from the Bolivian landscape. One of the factors was price—the cheapest item on the menu cost $3 then,whereas a complete lunch could be bought at a popular market for less than $1.

North Korea: With heavy-duty international sanctions,North Korea has no McDonald’s franchises,while its neighbour China has around 850. However,senior officials have had McDonald hamburgers delivered from China through North Korea’s Air Koryo.

Albania: One of the three European countries to have no McDonald’s outlets,Albania does have its own food chain—Kolonat. Cheekily and very closely modeled on the golden yellow arches,this chain is popular as Albania’s McDonald’s.

Tecoma,Australia: McDonald’s bid to enter the small Australian town,east of Melbourne,has run into trouble with the local population. Under the banner “No Maccas in Tecoma,” the campaign’s reach has been extraordinary. Campaigners have been quick to harness the power of social media,developing a website punningly titled ‘Burger Off’ to promote their cause.

Antarctica is the only continent without a McDonald’s. It’s present in six continents,but they have yet to open a fast food restaurant in Antarctica.

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