Food for politics: a restaurant and a hug

Does anyone remember those Irani restaurants in Mumbai that had eccentric notes put up — no combing hair near wash basin, no loud chatter, and no talking politics?

The first seemed the prerogative of the owners, the second as a consideration for other diners, and the last must have been the result of some bad experience in the past. Or, perhaps the owners truly believed that eating and politics together are bad for the stomach. It is also possible that they had strong opinions and did not relish the idea that some contrary views would be expressed, leading to a 'rebel clientele'.

Likewise, when I eat out and check the bill, the last thing I want is the owner to give me political bhaashan, while cribbing about taxes. Even the grocery stores did not do so due to the LBT taxes. They went on strike. The humble vegetable vendor has no recourse and has to put up with haggling.

On Tuesday, a small eatery made news for its bill that had these words: “As per UPA govt eating money (2G, coal, CWG scam) is a necessity and eating food in AC restaurants is a luxury.”

Aditi Restaurant in Parel was forced to shut down by Congress workers for this "defamation". There is anger and there is mirth.

And with these two emotions, there seems to be no room for people breathing heavy about freedom of expression to ask:

• Who made this bill public and why?

• What are the political affiliations, if any, of the owners?

• Do customers have a right to protest against political and social messages at a place where they pay for the services?

• The bill has no tax visible. How much is it fattening the cost of the meal under the guise of taxation and keeping a bit for itself?

• Are customers of various products and services, who have chosen to pay up the extra amount, willing to put up with such a rant?

What made Narendra Modi jump in? Why was he concerned about a little eating place when he has shown scant regard for worse?

The desperation of the BJP is such that it raised the matter in the state assembly: "This is shocking. The ruling party does not want to give the people right to protest against their scams. Why is the Congress so intolerant?"

The Congress is intolerant. These scams are real. The ministers have been arrested and spent time in jail; some got away. We have courts, even if we may not agree with the verdicts. We have the Right to Information.

The restaurant owner has every right to protest against scams when there are protest rallies or through other means. He has no business sneaking in political messages only to complain about taxes. In fact, he has no business passing on his tax worries on the customer, unless a customer specifically asks him about an inflated bill.

A report said:

"The Indian Hotel and Restaurant Association (AHAR) sources said that Aditi restaurant mostly caters to poor people coming to hospitals in the area, so there were complaints about high billing due to taxes. The owner, they said, had given expression to those complaints through a footnote in the bill."

This is lame. It is an aircondioned restaurant and the tax is specifically for AC ones. How many poor people visit such places? Would those coming from hospitals be bothered? And why should anyone? They do not know in advance what to expect and only later does the message hit home while paying.

What if instead of Congress goons a visitor had protested? Some can get rowdy. Would it have made news? Perhaps. If the owner had the instinct to smell an opportunity. On the day it was shut (it reopened on Tuesday) people had already been passing around the menu, planning home delivery and later it made it to their wish list.

The episode shows that anybody can print bills with a message and get instant popularity and martyrdom.

One report in The Times of India sourced its news story from social networks. It was painful to read this:

"Some took up the communal angle. It wouldn’t have been attacked had it been an Italian or a 'Muslim-owned restaurant serving ‘secular’ food', said marketing manager Jayesh Dewana, adding that the reason it had been shut was that it served 'Hindu, pure vegetarian' fare."

Unfortunate as it is, I am sure this is not an isolated opinion. What is secular food? How many vegetarian places have been shut down? Does a restaurant have a religion?

These are people fighting for freedom? Look at how chained they are. They are the ones who run down 'Muslim' eateries for their choice of fare and assume it is some Arabisation plot. These are the ignorant who do not know that in this same city such places were destroyed in the riots of 1993.

So, let us ask some questions:

1. Would Shri Narendra Modi's men permit Muslim-owned restaurants in Gujarat to have a message against 2002 riots on the bill?

2. Would an eatery in Chhatisgarh get away by announcing it sympathises with Maoist ideology?

3. Would a Sikh at his dhabha be able to seek the support of customers to petition against Sajjan Kumar?

You know the answer.

And despite my empathy for all the above, I would not like it. I am going to eat, not be saddled with problems, even though I am more than aware of them.

This would amount to misusing a client's space and proselytising.

Don't 'charge' me for it. Hand me a pamphlet separately, if you must.

This overarching culture of protest that is gaining currency to "reach millions" through short sentences is hot air. Those protesting against the shutdown of a restaurant are usually silent when people are rounded up on 'suspicion' for crimes they never commit. It is so easy to take up the cause of safe underdogs.

The holy hug

On Sunday, at an Iftaar organised by MLA Baba Siddiqui a rather normal greeting became an 'epic moment'. Two Bollywood biggies, reportedly not the best of friends, embraced. Salman Khan and Shahrukh Khan made it to the front page of some mainstream newspapers.

I watched one such barf-inducing clip on TV two days later. This nonsense was still being talked about. Realising how important this was, the host called out to the photographers to capture it.

My views on political iftaars are not new. I abhor them. Worse, this one was at a five-star hotel. What sort of austerity is it? Then to make it into a photo-op. I was shocked when the host, obviously on asked how he felt, said he had nothing to do with it. It was all Allah, he was merely a means. I would like to know why, in that case, Allah did not intervene when they had that big fight.

Leave religion alone.

© Farzana Versey


  1. Farzana, indeed, cross connection of interpretation! People have a right to protest, however they might want to protest. Frustration drives a lot many people to do many queer things. Some people drop off their clohes (Manipur), some others climb towers threating to kill themselves.... Fiberals, politician and media of dubious credentials are unfortunately helping in creating a belief system that makes us look every damn thing thru lens of religion or politics or caste. There is popular Telugu idiom (chaava gotti, chevulu mooyadam), translation of which is -- "Thrashing black n blue & closing their ears n mouth too!. (You hit them and dont let them wail ;-) ) How fair is it to "rob" people and not let them protest too?

  2. "This is lame. It is an aircondioned restaurant and the tax is specifically for AC ones. How many poor people visit such places? Would those coming from hospitals be bothered? And why should anyone? They do not know in advance what to expect and only later does the message hit home while paying."

    FV, What does serving poor people have to do with the constitutional right to express political opinons, whether on a bill or with a loudspeaker? Not sure I understand what you are saying with the above.

    Private businesses are allowed to express their opinion on politics, and be willing to accept the loss of business for their views on the bill. The people who just ate in the hotel do not have the option of not paying or not paying on the bill, but they can choose not to ever visit Aditi again. There is no excuse for the behavior of the congress party workers or the people pretending they have done nothing wrong and make the hotel owner the culprit in this case.

    Constitutional protections for free speech exist to protect political dissent of this kind. Nothing stated in the bill can amount to slander, much as the ruling party and its workers and thugs would like to pretend.

    The 2G scam and the CWG scam were reported in the papers and are a matter of public record. India is a lost cause when educated people can have a reaction pretending that the hotel owner was at fault for expressing opinions. A pity, this.


  3. hi, nice write up. It is no wonder that you hate modi ,bjp ,rss and have the right to do it. Also you are entitled to your prejudices in you writings as i or any writer and any citizen of India is (of course as long as he/she does not cause to take away such freedoms from others). And yes like you have stamped that restaurant owner with SS Bjp rss ,please do not stamp me with it because evryone who is against UPA has his own reason (like you have) and need not be politically affiliated to any party. I would for the sake of healthy argument try to mirror your questions.
    First, who made this bill public and why?: everyone who was eating there knew about it. however, the moment it came into notice of national opposition party it exponentially shot up. Aren't opposition there do exactly this? that is to let the govt know that there are protests (this being really unique) against one of its measure of tax imposition .
    Second:I donot have to like someone in order to hate someone else. personally i am quiet fed up with corruption everywhere and cannot give yet another chance to UPA.If the alternative wins and fails to take measures against it and some other issues , i wud again go for another alternative . but i cannot buy in to the argument that every reason for the failure of UPA is because of the 2002 and modi. This is how stupid reasons sound nowadays!
    Third customers' right to protest? .against food that they are consuming .the services they are getting. They always have a choice to leave and eat somewhere else.
    Simply because you do not like the guy's views against the party you support you are shutting his business . I am not sure how fair that sounds to you.
    Fourth the taxes.By this time you have got really personal with the guy.If he is doing it there is no reason why he should not be caught and penalized .
    Fifth, the guy was protesting against luxary tax imposed by UPA .He did not mention any specific politician . You tweet that if this would take place in gujarat what would modi do. So, you ,in addition to assuming that he was a modi agent to have risked his business to go anti UPA , also justify shutting down as mere shutting down and not some massacre as you would have wished! And why ? because of 2002 and modi. So in the end your argument is if a guy wants to protest against UPA govt's policy (as you protest against modi and i against corruption )he should be brought down and punished because of what modi did or didnot do in 2002 according to you ! I am not sure how logical that sounds. Yes but by shear mention of 2002 and modi one great effect does take place which is most of the readers get emotional enough to be blind to the real issues of :freedom of expression, freedom to profess etc). This exact advantage of blindness to real problems is taken by corrupt politicians to get back and ruin for 5 years again.
    thanks , Sachin.

  4. "there seems to be no room for people breathing heavy about freedom of expression to ask: "

    FV, all those questions you ask are mostly irrelevant -- FoE was added in the constitution precisely for reasons like these, as I am sure you know already. People of all political affliations must be allowed to speak their mind, else India may as well to a Chinese system and stop pretensions of being a constitutional republic. The fact that similar abuse of FoE happens in Gujarat or (insert any state in India) is terrible, but is not a reason to say that politicians and political parties that support such behavior are correct in any instance. Maybe it is time to just stop pretending that India is a constitutional republic and acknowledge it for what it is - a cheap imitation of the Chinese system.


  5. Sachin:

    I have asked a question about the politics of the owner, since we already know about the politics of those who forced it to shut down. I have nowhere "stamped" the owner. 

    I understand that people need not be politically affiliated. 

    The Opposition is not there to worry about how individual citizens express themselves, neither is the ruling party. This is political opportunism. If politicians are interested, they should talk about the taxes. Has the opposition done that? No. They latched on to scams. So, everyone knows about it. How do you know everyone who was eating there knew about this bill? Did it have any impact? If not, the purpose is lost.

    Who said the UPA's failures are because of 2002 or Modi? If anything, the little success he has managed to get publicly is because of that! 

    The customer did not get the right to protest because the bill comes after you have eaten. There are certain unwritten codes that non-political establishments ought to follow. Shutting down the restaurant was certainly an extreme reaction, but I am surprised at the support the owner has got. Surely, not all are his patrons, not all are doing it because they are being fair, and it is obvious that they too are responding to the political swipe, not the tax. And, take a look at the bill. 

    You assume too much. Modi made a comment where he did not discuss luxury tax. He spoke about intolerance. It is here in this photograph. 

    Why are you, and others, always touchy about Modi? There were THREE different scenarios mentioned. No word about the other two. Why? Because it does not fit into your idea of slotting me? 

    Sure. You have every right, as does every citizen, to vote for whomsoever they wish. Being fed-up is one reason people opt for other parties.

    Anyway, thank you for your feedback. It helped me clarify some things that people do not wish to read. 

  6. Al:

    Protest and express whatever people want, but not in a space where we are charged for it. I think I have made it clear.

    This FoE for the sake of FoE is getting to be more about some sundry folks who have no clue talking nonsense. And I am aware of the scams. I mentioned them. I thought the issue was luxury tax. See, no one is interested in that protest.

    Private companies can have their views, but not through the services they are providing in a 'secular' context.

    PS: Interestingly, people have problems with biased private channels.



    Protest about the robbery through scams where such protests a valid. Tomorrow I go to a spa and with the aroma oil I am told I get some lecture on politics. I am not interested.

  7. Looks like these guys thought they were being witty or clever by trying to combine two unrelated issues. Scams are essentially a crime and cause a tremendous amount of damage to people at all levels. Luxury tax is, well an issue to be debated but really no connection to the scams. Also it seems like they are passing the cost of luxury tax to the consumer, so what's their problem? Reduction in demand for their service?

  8. "Protest and express whatever people want, but not in a space where we are charged for it. I think I have made it clear. "

    FV, Why not?!! This is an unreasonable attitude. People are allowed to say whatever they want in their private space, like a business -- if anyone does not like the owner's attitude, they are welcome to give their money to someone else. The same attitude we would expect of people who do not like the political leanings of some newspaper or television space.

    "Caveat Emptor" is the operative phrase -- no one is obliged to eat at the aditi hotel if they think the owner's political views stink. There is no obligation for any business to be politcally neutral - the only reason most businesses choose to be neutral is because getting political is likely to make them lose customers.

    "I thought the issue was luxury tax. See, no one is interested in that protest. "

    The issue here could very well be that the owner of Aditi hotel is politically biased, but that is not relevant. The luxury tax was foisted on the public to pay for the welfare/spending schemes, so the owner of aditi hotel has every right to look at the govts policies with a jaundiced eye. Protest is all well and good, but Freedom of Expression is the bedrock of political liberty in a constitutional republic -- no one gets to choose what someone else can say or control it...exceptions were made in the Indian constitution's first amendment on this front, and none of them apply in this case. If this kind of tyranny is acceptable, then other kinds of tyranny imposed by religious groups and the majority should also be acceptable -- if being consistent in one's point of view is a matter of concern.

    There cannot be a requirement that people must not mentions scams if they are going to protest about taxes...those are restrictions of speech and against FoE.


  9. "Also it seems like they are passing the cost of luxury tax to the consumer, so what's their problem? "

    FV, Sai, the business owner can legitimately claim that this cuts into his/her profits and has a right to be cheesed off about it -- if there were standards for political expression (e.g., you can protest about X only if your views are sensible and clever or you cannot mention scams if you are protesting about taxes) that cannot be violated in order to enjoy FoE, everyone would have to shut up..if that is not obvious.


  10. FV, and in other news, someone else wants Amartya Sen penalized for making a political statement against the other side.


    At this rate, Indian politics is destined to be a not-very-funny joke, if it is not one already.


  11. hi
    If you can honestly answer this question :What if it was SS/bjp rss instead of Congress what would have been your stand?say, bjp imposed luxary tax.
    Your whole argument revolves around modi and not the restaurant guy or luxary tax. And i have absolutely no problem with that . My point is simply because you hate modi you are bashing that guy!
    I am not touchy about anybody so please spare that thought ,i am just too fed up with people who support one form of harassment to avenge some other.
    And about your three questions: i donot wish my country to be a country governed by an eye for an eye law.If somebody can not protest in gujarat ,chattisgarh or anywhere it amounts to loss of freedom of ppl and the citizen.
    you can ask a thousand 'what if ' questions and still they will not be solution to the real problem.
    And lastly to your example : tommorow if i go to a spa and with aroma oil i am told i get some lectures on politics i would Leave and NOT go there anymore. and maybe i would also tell it to some of my friends who would do as they wish with this info. This is how market force works ! you donot ban somebody if you do not like the product. If the product is really bad it would die off for the lack of demand!
    ps:i like healthy debates , and write what i feel is logical and do not worry about what people wish to read. It is called being honest with oneself.


  12. FV

    Apropos the restaurant issue:

    Thanks. Your views were most enlightening. Since Narendra Modi (expectedly!) has found a way into the discussion, allow me to paint the following hypothetical pictures, both about restaurants.

    1. A restaurant claims that it serves "halaal" food. It aims to attract certain clientelle and turns away those who want "non-halaal" food.

    2. A restaurant prints "Mandir Wahi Banayenge" on its bill or billboard and places a donation box at the counter for contributions.

    Are these actions political or religious?


    Apropos the Khan-Siddiqi threesome:

    The people involved have inflated (!) egos which in turn, are being fondled (!) by their followers (vote banks?) and the visual-hungry media. Unfortunately, the outcome was hard (!) ly worth the effort!

  13. Sai:

    Until the other day, no one was talking about the wit of the restaurant's owner. Now, suddenly, it is tongue-in-cheek...like the "poor" clientele from the hospital is going to notice.

    And, yes, the place has attained celebrity status. You might like to read this report:

    "I saw hundreds of people visiting it to show their support to comments on the bill footnote by the restaurant owner against the UPA government's policies. The restaurant was packed throughout the day and visitors criticized Monday's protesters. They promised the owner that if the restaurant faced a problem again, they would come out in support," said AHAR general secretary Shashikant Shetty. Aditi owner Shrinivas Shetty was not available for comment.

    "It was silly to overreact to what was essentially tongue-in-cheek. Society should give some space for such tongue-in-cheek criticism or satire. I hope they don't start attacking Amul hoardings now," Ajit Ranade of the Association for Democratic Reforms said.

  14. F&F:

    Delighted that you were enlightened. Modi found his way (how many words did he get in this magnum opus?) because he chose to comment on it 'politically'. 

    Moving on (ah, how we must!)...

    Apropos the restaurant issue:

    {1. A restaurant claims that it serves "halaal" food. It aims to attract certain clientelle and turns away those who want "non-halaal" food.

    2. A restaurant prints "Mandir Wahi Banayenge" on its bill or billboard and places a donation box at the counter for contributions.

    Are these actions political or religious?}

    Both are religious, and the latter political as well. 

    Halaal is its USP for those who eat only such food. Its intent is clear. It would be wrong to turn away anybody, but why would anyone want non-halaal food here? You don't go to a Chinese restaurant and ask for Mexican food. 

    However, if the halaal guy misled his clients and said he also served non-halaal, then he should be hauled up. 

    The 'mandir banayenge' is a political slogan. Obviously, I think it would be wrong to make customers go through this. But, if he is a devout man and thinks his clients might be interested, he can place a box near the counter (away from the main dining area) for donations to a local temple. 

    We do see such boxes for various charities in shops, salons etc.  

    Wondering why you asked. On second thought, of course you would. 


    {Apropos the Khan-Siddiqi threesome}

    What is with those Q marks in parenthesis? Anyway, I agree with you...phew...even that gets tiring :-)

  15. Al:

    I so disagree with you regarding using this restaurant example for FoE. But I think I've more than clarified my stand. We'll have to let it be.

    I do agree with you about politicians turning everything into a joke and not only because of the example you gave. Today, I read the new CJI has publicly denounced the verdicts by the former CJI, and for reasons of impropriety. I had put up a report on the 'News' post regrading his comments on the media, and here he is being quoted in the media in a sensational manner.

    Sad, because the report can be damning and the issue needs to be addressed:




    I like healthy debate, but not going round and round the mulberry bush, I don't think that's healthy.

    My stand would have been the same had any political party been involved. This tunnel vision and baiting gets boring after a while.

  16. "I so disagree with you regarding using this restaurant example for FoE. "

    FV, your view is that the restaurant's customers "own" the space in the restaurant if they are paying for it. The alternative view is that the owner of a private institution controls that space and people voluntarily go in there to eat or conduct any business/economic activity, and their presence in the establishment is at the discretion of the owner. Of course, in India, keeping people out of an establishment can easily be portrayed as an act of racism (i.e., casteism or religious bias) and be taken seriously because that kind of discrimination is indeed common all over the place even today. This privacy and ownership are not clearly defined, which makes the proposition of owning land or doing business in India a very risky one. But it is what it is, no matter how self-defeating.



Note: only a member of this blog may post a comment.