Mumbai’s street food politics: Youth the gainer

July 4th, 2011 - 1:43 pm ICT by IANS  

Bharatiya Janata Party Mumbai, July 4 (IANS) The way to a voter’s heart is through his stomach. Political parties campaigning for the 2012 civic polls seem to have altered the old proverb to woo the electorate by helping unemployed youth set up food stalls peddling a variety of local snacks.

On July 1, NGO Swabhiman Sanghatana, headed by Nitesh Rane, the son of state Industries Minister Narayan Rane, launched his brand of Chhatrapati Vada-Paav stalls in the posh Powai suburb of northeast Mumbai. This poses a direct challenge to the Shiv Sena’s proposed Shiv Vada-Paav stalls - a pet project of the Hindu nationalist party broaden its base through stalls selling the street version of the ubiquitous burger.

This prompted the city Congress unit to jump in the fray with a proposal to start outlets selling kanda poha, a popular snack comprising onion-puffed rice-spices.

With barely seven months to go for elections to the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC), the political battle is heating up and so are the frying pans.

The Shiv Sena has alleged that the Chhatrapati Vada-Paav stalls by the NGO are illegal.

“We shall put up our Chhatrapati Vada-Paav stalls adjacent to Shiv Vada-Paav stalls. If the BMC wants to demolish our stalls, first they must demolish Shiv Vada-Paav,” declared Rane, sounding the bugle for the battle to grab control over the civic body.

On the other hand, Shiv Sena Standing Committee chairman Rahul Shevale said: “We have taken the appropriate clearances for starting such stalls to provide a means of livelihood to unemployed Marathi youth.”

The party’s leader in the BMC, Sunil Prabhu, said that if the Swabhiman Sanghatana wants to start some other business for helping unemployed Marathi youth, it could be considered by the house.

Not to be left behind, the opposition leader in the BMC, Rajhans Singh of the Congress, shot off a letter to the civic authorities, demanding permission to launch “authorised” ‘kanda poha’ stalls.

Unemployed youth can apply to the parties concerned and ask for allotment of a stall. The party may select an appropriate location and offer a small loan. The young entrepreneur can then start his small business and gradually pay off his loan.

In good areas, the stall owners can pocket a cool profit of Rs.1,500 per day.

The Congress is expected to make a determined bid to wrest control over the civic body, run for nearly two decades by the Shiv Sena-Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) alliance.

Despite the claims by the Shiv Sena, the civic body has taken the neutral stand that all such stalls are unauthorised and shall be removed.

In the din over vada paavs and kanda poha, there is a tantalising whiff of other new snacks in the air for the Mumbai resident looking for cheap street food.

Congress corporator from Dahisar East Rajendra Prasad Chaube has demanded that stalls selling snacks popular with the huge north Indian population in the city should also be permitted. He said that some south Indian corporators were also toying with the idea of recommending stalls to serve snacks like idli sambar or vada sambar.

Citing BMC rules, Chaube said that a maximum of 125 such stalls can be permitted to be allotted to unemployed youth in Mumbai.

“Why should there be only a vada-paav monopoly? Let the BMC allot stalls for all types of snacks and if required, declare a quota for them,” Chaube told IANS.

Interestingly, there is no dearth of stalls selling vada paav, kanda poha or idli-vada-sambar in Mumbai.

Vada paav costs around Rs.6 a piece, same for a plate of kanda poha, idli-vada-sambar costs between Rs.8 and Rs.10.

Though exact figures are not available, BMC officials estimate there are around 10,000 big and small food stalls in Mumbai.

(Quaid Najmi can be contacted at q.najmi@ians.in)

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