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Culinary politics on our plate too hard to digest

Even as our political parties gear up for the next elections and grapple with complex issues such as security and the farm crisis,among others,the Congress and the Shiv Sena also seem determined to press with their plans to cook up culinary politics to feed their cause.

Written by Rakshit Sonawane | Mumbai | Published: January 7, 2009 12:25:32 am

Even as our political parties gear up for the next elections and grapple with complex issues such as security and the farm crisis,among others,the Congress and the Shiv Sena also seem determined to press with their plans to cook up culinary politics to feed their cause.

With the MNS hijacking the Sena’s dated but popular poll planks — Marathi and jobs for locals— the larger parties are now planning to tap the hearts of voters through their stomachs. This time,it’s reviving the politics of food that had been abandoned after the zunka-bhakar exercise fizzled out.

In an irony of sorts,the Sena has tied up with multinational brands such as McDonald’s and Pepsi to promote the Maharashtrian burger — the vada-pav. A little over a month ago,the Sena organised a competition of vada-pav vendors at Shivaji Park to shortlist five best recipes and the best one — which is being monitored for consistency — is going to be branded as ‘Shiv Vada’ and accepted as the standard Marathi burger. The ‘Shiv Vada’ is to be launched on January 23,on the birthday of Sena chief Bal Thackeray,and the first batch of 100 Shiv Vada stalls are to launch shortly.

Zunka-bhakar (a paste of spicy gram with a jowar or bajra roti) was introduced as a snack for the poor in 1995,when the Sena-BJP wrested power in the state from the Congress. The state allotted space for over 6,000 stalls at prime junctions in cities and towns to serve zunka-bhakar for one rupee.

Only,the stall owners preferred to sell other products instead of primarily providing the first politicised meal. Eventually,when the Congress-NCP alliance returned to power in 1999,it reversed the decision and stopped the grants.

The Shiv Sena’s Shiv Vada has a two-prong plan: to provide livelihood to vendors,mostly Shiv Sainiks,and to create goodwill among Mumbaikars by offering a clean,local snack. But the Shiv Vada stalls will also be contact points for the party’s activities across the city with their network spreading to other districts soon.

“We have over 5,000 Vada-Pav vendors registered with us,” says Sanjay Gurav,president of the Maharashtra Vada-Pav Vikreta Sena. The hitch,however,is that the BMC — currently run by the Sena — is still working out the formula to legalise vada-pav stalls by issuing licenses.

Meanwhile,the Congress is working on its own brand of kitchen politics. They’ve adopted another Marathi snack,the delicious ‘kanda-poha’,made of puffed rice and onions,as their dish of the day. “We’re prepared to launch the Kanda Poha festival,in which recipes from different parts of Maharashtra would be tasted,” says Congress leader in the BMC Rajhans Singh.

“We were ready with it when Mumbai was attacked by terrorists,but now we’re waiting for things to cool down.” He also points out that the potatoes in the vada-pav come from Uttar Pradesh,the ‘kanda-poha’ is entirely homegrown.

“This is more of an answer to the Sena’s culinary politics than our own initiative to do something in this direction,” Singh admits,pointing out that if the BMC decided to provide licences to Shiv Vada stalls,the Congress would demand stalls for Kanda Poha.

Fortunately for other parties,on the menu are other Maharashtrian delicacies — tilgul ladoo anyone?

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