At first read, it holds your attention, and even amuses you to quite an extent - the fact that Shiv Sena has decided to launch its own chain of fast food stands and give McDonald's a run for its money in India. "We're making a chain like McDonald's," said Sanjay Raut, a Shiv Sena Member of Parliament. Never would the Mumbaikars have dreamt that their favourite snack, the humble vada pao, would see the day of such glorification and that too in the day and age when MNCs abound.
I almost geared myself for some patriotic adrenalin, sure that the nationalistic endeavour would garner nationwide support for the Sena. After all, I was one of the numerous citizens in the country who rued the fact that most Indians (whom we jokingly call Non-Indian Residents (NIRs) looked down upon our indigenous snacks (that we savoured on the roadside dhaabas every other day) but happily gobbled down all the "junk food" namely burgers, pizzas, French fries, pastas et al - for some proximity to Europe and the US of A.
But my patriotic bubble suddenly took a beating when I read that the editorial in Saamna added that the snack would be renamed "Shiv vada pao". The snack, which we have since our childhood, connected with Mumbai, its throbbing life, its beach-side kiosks displaying vada paos, bhel puri, chaat and bondaas - suddenly seemed to take on a rather unappetizing flavour.
Inflicting further injuries to the wound, the editorial states that only Maharashtrians will be hired at Shiv vada pav stands - a calculated move aimed at highlighting the party's stand of "protecting the interests of the Marathi men". Nothing could be far from desirable for Mumbai and all that it encapsulates. The whole exercise of patenting the snack and limiting the work force based on regionalism is something that goes drastically against the very metropolitan ethos of the country. A city that has played gallant host to millions of people from all across the country, assimilating them irrespective of caste, culture and creed, is suddenly going down the drain. Many Parsis, Gujarati Hindus, Muslims, Jews and Christians have played defining roles in the cosmopolitan city's growth since time immemorial, as have thousands of migrants who land in the city to make their future. But today, there is a clear acerbic division being created within the city's population that is detrimental not just to its quintessential spirit but its economy as well.
But then that's clearly not the concern of the Shiv Sena. What they are concerned about is the Maharashtrians vote-bank, even if it's at the cost of nationalism. Shiv Sena has for long been objecting to many things from the West. From attacking the Valentine's Day parties, to disrupting the screenings of movies about lesbians et al, the party went all out to "protect" the country from any cultural threat from the West. But one can't help but wonder if the same should not hold true if the party itself is posing a threat to the 'Indian' spirit by such divisive measures!
By June, the party plans to launch the Shiv vada pav brand, with nearly 5,000 franchisees across the city. Once that's in place, people in Mumbai ...oh, I'm sorry, Maharashtrians... will be able to heat up hygienic, uniform vada pavs prepared in a central kitchen. But it would be a pity that what could have been a nationalistic move, will end up as a regional one, wrapped in an ideological flavour which will definitely not leave a good taste in the mouth, for a long time to come.