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Platform for street warriors
Vendors rake in moolah as House starts

A kiosk on Mahatma Gandhi Marg. Picture by Sanjib Mukherjee

Bhubaneswar, Nov. 27: Aggressive sloganeering, provocative placards and soapbox orators have turned Mahatma Gandhi Marg into a battleground.

While the combatants raise slogans with matching arm action every now and then, and local residents gear up for yet another test of patience, it is business as usual for the likes of Dinanath Mandal, 38, a tea seller.

The hullabaloo on the capital street, courtesy the start of the Assembly’s winter session today, has once again brought a smile on Mandal’s face. He happily hands out cups of piping hot lemon tea to the hundreds of tired agitators gathering around his handcart.

“Lemon tea is cheaper than milk tea and is also easy to make. It is in great demand during the Assembly session, particularly during winters,” he says, as he stuffs loose change from his customers into a small pouch attached to his pants.

Compared to his usual 100-cups-a-day sale, Mandal sells nearly 300 cups of tea at the agitation site during Assembly sessions. Each cup is priced at Rs 3.

“Lemon tea is a great way to start your day. It boosts your energy level, very important for us as we spend days together at this place for our dharna,” says Banamali Behera, a lecturer from Khaira College in Balasore, one of the 3,000 members of the United Teachers’ Working Forum that is staging a demonstration here.

Like Mandal, there are at least 15 other tea sellers on the Mahatma Gandhi Marg making hay while the sun shines. Vendors selling gupchup, groundnuts, cucumber, mixture, paan, gutka, cigarettes and other stuff have also joined them.

“My sales during the Assembly session go up from Rs 300-400 to as high as Rs 800-1,000 a day,” says Ramu, one of the 10-odd gupchup sellers.

With the police banning any kind of kiosk near the agitation site, owners of eateries and hotels have devised various strategies to rake in the moolah.

They are sending errand boys to hawk food packets on handcarts and trolleys. Each packet, with rice, dal and khatta, is priced at Rs 30.

“We usually take orders from the people assembling on Mahatma Gandhi Marg. Otherwise, we send food packets for nearly 200 people,” says Sagar, an employee of the local Maa Hotel.

The hotels and Omfed kiosks located within a kilometre of the Assembly also witness an upward trend in business during such occasions. “Our business jumps to almost double,” says Rabi Behera, who sells chapatti and curry.

“One can get food by just spending Rs 10,” said another food kiosk owner. Prafulla Sahu, 65, says that he sells nearly 25kg of groundnuts every day at Rs 100 per kg, when the Assembly session is on. Similarly, business near MLA Colony at Unit-IV also picks up at this time of the year.

“It is natural for sales to go up when the crowd swells. But compared to the 1990s, it has come down. At that time, there was rush in almost all the MLA houses. That is missing today,” says Gopal Behera, an old timer.

Roadside palmists and star-gazers are also going through lucky times. “Even political leaders come to me to know their fate,” says a palmist sitting near the Assembly, adding that he charges Rs 50 to anyone who wants to know what is stored in his/her future. He, however, refuses to divulge his name.