The jury is still out on nightlife zones

The proposal to have Mumbai’s nightlife back has revived the debate on the city’s socio-economic and political aspects. Some say the proposal shouldn’t be elite-centric and be made all-inclusive and not driven by a certain political party. The argument doesn’t look completely unfair to me, because I believe the city belongs to all the super rich and ultra poor who reserve the right to get entertained in their own capacity. It may have its opponents, though.

The move takes us back to the time when Mumbai was the country’s textile hub. Textile mills worked 24X7 then and the nights didn’t pose any problem to the workers because of availability of full-course meals and refreshments in the street joints. The same mills have now made way for malls and commercial complexes which house luxury restaurants, bars, pubs and multiplexes, which the state may get tagged as ‘nightlife zones’.

Some people see a moral issue in this move as well. “These are the people who shut their mills to build malls, pubs, and bars, and now want the government to make them nightlife zones on mill lands,” a journalist friend told me. His contempt for the upper class had me telling him that the people who once owned these mills never had any nightlife issues. They always had their ways and means to buy it here or elsewhere.

The nightlife agenda has political shades to it. The BJP is gripped by a sense of getting drubbed by the Shiv Sena’s youth leader Aaditya Thackeray, who, by pitching for the idea, has managed to win the hearts of the people who essentially are reform-friendly cosmopolitan BJP supporters. CM Devendra Fadnavis reacted positively to the proposal, keeping the hopes of stakeholders alive. In the bargain, Aaditya invited the wrath of the people who advocate the sons-of-the-soil agenda. These ones wonder as to how a party that took pride in moral policing could support such an ‘anti-Indian culture’ plan. They demand to know the benefits these nightlife zones will offer to common Mumbaikars.

While the CM has assured Aaditya of support, his party colleague, city BJP chief Ashish Shelar, has asked whether the poorest of poor would get his staple vada pav and cutting chai on the streets while the rich would be buying expensive drinks and food at star eateries in nightlife zones. Another BJP leader, Shaina NC, has, however, joined hands with Aaditya to get the plan rolling by the coming monsoon session of the state legislature. She led a delegation of star hotels to Aaditya the other day. Congress’ Nitesh Rane has lapped up the opportunity to corner the Sena over its failed ‘Shiv Vada’ scheme, which was planned to offer the sons of the soil the means of earning their bread (pun unintended).

We must remember that we have sections of hard-working people who have the money - they may not be as rich as the class the anti-nightlife lobby despises — but are unable to buy, legally and in a hassle-free manner, services for recreation. We have people working in the service sector which operates 24X7, and professionals who slog not less than 12-16 hours daily. But we don’t have facilities, other than very expensive star hotels, to cater to them. Tourists, as per the state data, have stopped spending big bucks in Mumbai because it does not offer value for money.

The city’s cultural canvas has enlarged over the last decade, but has hogged the limelight for the wrong reasons. Dance bars, which used permits issued for classical dance performances for running all kinds of activities on their premises, ruled the roost for a while before getting banned. They are likely to make a comeback in their original avatar very soon, following the court’s order. Even during the ban, many areas had dance bars running in association with corrupt cops. Some operate as pick-up joints under the garb of orchestra bars. In this view, it is but natural for citizens to have security concerns addressed in the new plan.

Police Commissioner Rakesh Maria has taken up the challenge of maintaining law-and-order in such zones. With the force under his command, Maria would need political support to help the scheme work without causing any trouble to peace-loving people. I foresee the Fadnavis-led government treading cautiously while deciding the new policy. The government will take its own time to debate changes to be made to various laws and regulations. I don’t see the policy coming any time soon.

The writer is Political Editor of mid-day

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