All’s fair in love, war and political feuds — even depriving your estranged uncle his daily cigarette fix. Last week, the Yuva Sena, led by Sena cub Aaditya Thackeray, flagged off a ‘drive’ against shops and tapris selling cigarettes near school premises.
The very first joint it cracked down on was Shaarda Paan Bhandar. Sena’s youth wing insists that they targeted the shop because it was selling cigarettes within 100 metres of the Bal Mohan Vidyamandir near Shivaji Park.
It is a well known fact that Shaarda Paan Bhandar is also the cigarette supplier for Raj Thackeray, his estranged uncle and his father Uddhav’s bitter political opponent.
When MiD DAY spoke to Yuva Sena representatives, they stuck to the reason offered for their campaign, reiterating that they were driven by concern for public welfare, and not petty politicking. They even claimed that they were doing a favour to the school authorities, who had repeatedly ‘complained’ to them.
Samadhan Savarkar, a senior Yuva Sena leader, said, “We received several complaints from the people residing near the shop, even parents and teachers who are attached to the school. So we decided to take action, and after we put up the hoarding, the shop owner of his own accord decided not to sell cigarettes. We are following the rules — it’s illegal to sell tobacco products within 100 metres of a school or any educational institution,” he said.
Efforts to corroborate these claims revealed facts quite to the contrary, when the school’s principal said he had never lodged any sort of complaint against the famous paan shop, especially with the youth Sena wing. Principal of Bal Mohan Vidyamandir M Yadav said, “We didn’t have any problem with the paan shop, as it has been there for years now. Probably the parents must have raised the issue. We didn’t send any complaint to any one.”
Caught in the crossfire is Ashok Shetty, the owner of the shop that has been barred from selling cigarettes, not only to its favourite and most prominent patron, but to all other customers.
Lamenting the ban, he said, “My business has been doomed because of the Yuva Sena’s new diktat. I have been selling at the same spot for nearly 40 years, working since I was 17 or 18 years old. Now at 53 years, I have to slow down sales. The embargo has affected my business a lot. We have always been cautious and responsible about the sale of tobacco products, but still our shop is being forced to stop selling cigarettes.”
Another worker at the shop added, “Since we have stopped selling cigarettes, our customers have dwindled by a large margin. People used to come here and have a paan and a smoke, but now, since we have to turn away those who ask for cigarettes, our paan sales are also affected.”
Savarkar, however, insisted that their intentions were noble: “Shaarda Paan Bhandar is not the only shop, we will take action against all cigarette shops near schools, because many young kids get addicted to smoking, when they get cigarettes within easy reach.”
While the MNS chose not comment on the issue, a source close to the family said, “We don’t understand the sudden action against the shop. It has been there for ages, so why the sudden agitation against it now?”