In April 2010, the Maharashtrian Navnirman Sena (MNS), a right-wing political party, staged a Maharashtrian Food Festival in Mumbai to mark the fiftieth anniversary of the founding of the Indian state of Maharashtra. Led by Raj Thackeray, the firebrand nephew of Bal Thackeray—the leader of the rival Shiv Sena (Maharashtra’s original Marathi-chauvinist party)—the MNS generally attracts media attention for antimigrant rhetoric and violence. The Food Festival, held over a four-night period at an athletic complex in suburban Mumbai, provided an opportunity for the party to show a softer face. Vendors provided visitors samples of Maharashtra’s often-neglected culinary traditions, while women competed for the title of “best cook in Mumbai.” While the party’s explicit Marathi-first sentiments place a natural limit on their political appeal, the festival seemed carefully engineered to raise their electoral fortunes among the Marathi middle classes. Comfortable enough to be less concerned about losing jobs and privileges, this segment of the electorate might be motivated by memories of a delicious (and identity-affirming) dish enjoyed at the festival.
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