The legendary dabbawallas of Mumbai, known for their almost error-free and sustainable business model for 124 years, have taken a shine to politics. They want their party of choice, the Shiv Sena, to give a ticket to at least one of their nearly 5,000 members to contest the upcoming state assembly election.
In turn, they will use their considerable reach of more than 2,50,000 dabbas – or tiffin boxes – in Mumbai to reinforce the party’s campaign. Nearly all the dabbawallas are Maharashtrians. The service has earned a Six Sigma rating for a near-error-free service.
“We want to contest because we have no political representation at all. We are well-recognised and hugely admired for our core service, but no one takes up our issues or even talks about our problems,” said Subhash Talekar, spokesperson of the Mumbai Tiffin Box Suppliers Association.
They could have approached any political party but “we have a natural affinity with the Shiv Sena”, he said. The Sena had included welfare schemes for dabbawallas in its vision document released for the assembly election.
“We would like the Sena to give us at least one ticket, either from Byculla or Sewri. People will vote for us but we don’t have the money to contest an assembly election. That’s why we want the Sena’s backing,” Talekar added. Shiv Sena spokesperson declined to comment.
We are a business driven by people rather than technology and have been admired by people such as Prince Charles and Richard Branson, but we have not really progressed unlike the mathadi (head-loaders) or the mill workers; this is the sentiment among most of our members, said Talekar. “This election is a way to get represented as mathadis and mill workers are,” he added.
Dabbawallas have, in the recent past, demanded 10-15% of the new taxi permits to start a parallel revenue stream, citing that a dabbawalla earned an average of only Rs 10,000 a month. For the last 10 years, they have been trying to get possession of a plot of land allotted to them by a previous Congress government. “Political representation is a must. We have realised it now,” Talekar said.