MUMBAI: Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s pakodanomics has become the butt of jokes in political circles and on social media but it makes perfect sense to its miffed ally, the Shiv Sena. “We can very well understand the pakoda employment logic,” said the party’s Rajya Sabha MP Sanjay Raut about Modi’s suggestion recently that selling pakodas is also a form of employment.
Raut should know, after all his party owes its rise to the humble vada pav. When the Sena’s firebrand founder, Bal Thackeray, launched the party in 1966, his recipe to increase the Sena’s support base among the Marathi manoos was vada pav.
There was rising unemployment in Maharashtra those days and Mumbai’s economy, as also the underworld, was dominated by South Indians. Udupi restaurants thrived in the country’s commercial hub even as unemployment among Marathi youth became a cause of social tension.
Enter the Sena in this scenario and Thackeray’s son of the soil politics. The party was quick to realise that the unemployed youth were restive, so it began enlisting them at its shakhas and pressured offices and industries to employ them. Efforts to fight the dominance of Udupi hotels and Malayali men selling tender coconuts went alongside and the vada pav was born, said Bhau Torsekar, veteran columnist.
“Balasaheb asked the Marathi youth in the 1970s to sell vada pav to overcome the problem of unemployment,” Raut said, adding that “our party was fed, literally and figuratively, on vada pav in its early days.” The party also promised the vada pav sellers protection from rapacious policemen and local criminals, endearing the Sena further.
The common man’s staple in Mumbai those days was misal pav, costing 25 paise. According to Torsekar, Chandrakant Alekar, a Sena activist, came up with an idea to give a twist to misal pav and thus came vada pav, priced at 12 paise. It became an instant hit with mill workers in Mumbai.
“Alekar’s business was an instant hit which inspired others to set up similar vada pav stalls with boards proclaiming they were Shiv Sena-sponsored stalls. A confident Sena contested the 1971 Lok Sabha polls. When its candidates lost, they were teased over the symbol (shield and two swords), comparing it with vada and chilies. But that made the snack more popular,” Torsekar said.
The political impact of vada pav stalls is still intact, making the Sena launch a formal initiative called the ‘Shiv vada pav’ in 2008. Around 5,000 such stalls are being run across Mumbai today, helping people earn `5,000-`10,000 a month.