Today, Chief Minister Narendra Modi will connect with people hanging out at handpicked tea stalls for the first of the ‘Chai pe Charcha’ sessions, organised by Citizens for Accountable Governance at 69 locations in 22 cities from 5-8 pm. The Indian Express team caught up with some of these tea vendors who will host the even.
Manish Shedke’s Om Sai Tea and Breakfast, TP-13
Manish Shedke, whose Tea and Breakfast stall will be the centre of attraction on Wednesday, has been in the business for the last four years, supporting his family of four. He started out as a breakfast place and only recently started selling tea. “The response has been overwhelming,” he says.
Shedke’s tea stall was selected by the volunteers of CAG around a month ago for the space that it offers to host the programme. “I have not been much into politics. I do not know why they selected my stall for the function, but this will make it popular,” Shedke says. Shedke did not know that Modi was once a tea vendor. Originally a resident of Ramnagar in Maharashtra, Shedke migrated with his family of four over two decades back.
Kanchanlal, GIDC Road
Kanchanlal, 60, has been running the stall for 18 years. Apart from putting up a “Chai pe charcha – Namo ke saath” poster, Kanchanlal has also been handed over a “Modi for PM fund” bank, in which generous clients are donating “funds” for the party. “I have been told that I have to make tea and serve 250 people together, who will come to my location. These are supposed to be BJP workers,” he says. Kanchanlal says he was apprehensive about the whole programme as the other tea stall owners have been removed from the road. “I was actually taking off my stall too to avoid damage by the corporation, but the BJP workers said my name has been registered in the list and so no one can touch my stall. Thus, I stayed.” Kanchanlal says he is a Modi loyalist and has been following Modi’s political career ever since he joined politics. “I know Modi has been a tea vendor as I have read about him since his days in the RSS. Tomorrow, they will give me a “Modi for PM” cap and I will wear it while making the tea,” he says.
Gopal Sharma’s Ambassador Tea Stall, Chhani
Gopal Sharma’s Ambassador Tea Stall is a famous hangout zone for cutting chai. A native of Bulandshahr in Uttar Pradesh, Sharma is firmly into the RSS and has been going to its shakhas since he was 11-years-old. He started his stall in 1987, nearly three years after landing in Gujarat. Over the years, as the stall gained popularity and his business grew, he involved all his three sons in the business, who work with him in shifts. Sharma says he learnt that Modi was once a tea vendor after Congress leader Mani Shankar Aiyar’s remark in the media. The BJP party workers have been frequenting his tea stall for the last few days, figuring out where to set up chairs and TV screen on which Modi’s programme will be relayed. Sharma has been asked to put 50 chairs and clean up the area around the stall. “More than my political alliance, it is the popularity of my tea stall that has made the BJP select this as the venue for the programme,” said Sharma, who makes tea from 20 litres of milk daily.
Chillies Cafeteria, Navrangpura
A tea-stall-cum-eating joint located on CG Road, one of the commercial nerve centres of Ahmedabad, is all decked up with Modi’s “Chai par Charcha” posters. Owned by Shiplesh Rathod, a third-generation BJP supporter, the place can barely accommodate ten persons, but is flooded with orders. The shop has been selling 700-800 cups of tea everyday to the offices and coaching classes nearby. “It was the initiative of my younger brother that this tea stall is selected for the Modiji’s video conference programme. It is just the place that we are offering, rest everything, from technical support to infrastructure, is being provided by the BJP and the Citizen Awareness Group (CAG),” said Shilpesh, whose grandfather Babulal Shah contested Ankaleshwar nagarpalika elections for Swatantra Paksh party against Ahmed Patel during 1950s while his father Champak G Rathod served as Joint Secretary at the state’s Legal Department after he retired as a Sessions Judge from Ahmedabad.
Ashok Tea Stall, Maninagar
Ashok Nanama, who runs this stall, is ready to meet any eventuality arising out of the increased orders for tea during the screening of the “charcha”. “I do not know what charcha will be like on TV, but I expect more people coming tomorrow and I will be ready with my supplies,” says Nanama, who sells around 200 cups of tea daily.
A man of modest means, he came here from his native district Dungarpur over 25 years ago and has been an illiterate ever since. “Asitbhai (Asit Vora, former mayor) stops by my stall when he happens to pass from here and he acknowledges me by name,” he says. He, however, says that he may be termed a BJP sympathiser at the most, not a party member.
“Some party men had come here some time ago.They pasted the Chai par Charcha posters on the entrance of a municipal school (where his stall is located) and informed me of this programme near the stall, that is all. They have not said anything other than this,” he said. Pleading not to be harassed by the anti-encroachment staff, he says, “I give tea for free to higher-ups coming here for tea if I know them.”
Kalubhai Marwadi runs his tea stall near a pan parlour in Manorama Complex and is not interested in politics. “I am a small businessman, keeping only to my work. I am very much wary of anything that is of political nature,” he said. Pointing at the small billboard pasted at his wall, he said some students from the IIM had come here a few days ago, told him of the Charcha banner to be pasted at his stall. “They had told me that on February 12, they would come back with a TV set, a generator set which would be installed at my stall for public viewing. I had first told them that I would not allow any such thing at my stall, but then, because they were also my regular clients, I allowed them,” he said. He says, “I knew about Modi being a tea vendor and all that only after the IIM guys visited my shop.”
Dilip Kumar Mandal, 30, runs a tea stall by his name on the roadside of Green Valley Apartment behind Gangeshwar Temple at Adajan in Surat for the last ten years. Dilip hails from Jharkhand and has settled here with his parents. He says, “Two people, one of them called Harishbhai, came to my tea stall two days ago. They handed series of pamphlets on the tea stall.” They will arrange a LCD television where people will see and hear Modi’s speech. I told them that I will be glad and even I talked to the neighbouring shopkeepers and they agreed to give power supply connection if needed. Dilip learnt about Modi starting out as a tea vendor a week ago from his clients. Mandal said, “Everybody in my residence area and at my work place likes Modi and they follow BJP. My parents and I and my son too like Modi.”
Pooja tea stall,
Bharat Mali (32) hails from Sirohi district in Rajasthan and has been running the stall for the last six years. Bharat said that two persons came to his shop, had tea and later took photographs of the shop, along with details about him. They told Bharat that his tea stall had been selected for chai pe charcha, addressed by Narendra Modi on February 12. He learnt about Modi’s tea vendor origins from the media three months back.
Bharat sells more than 250 cups of tea per day and his regular customers are neighbouring shopkeepers, construction labourers, auto drivers and youths. He said, “My shop is at main junctions, so apart from my regular customers, I get new customers everyday and this adds to my business. I believe that after the February 12 programme, my tea business will definitely grow as people will watch Modi live, while having a tea cup in their hands. I think that it would be like having tea with Modi.”
Khetla Appa Tea
Stall, Kalavad Road
Owned by Ghelabhai for the last 18 years, this shop moved from Gaisford theatre area to the upmarket Kalavad road a couple of years back. Parbatbhai, who belongs to Padadhari village in Rajkot district, now runs the shop which sees 2,000 customers everyday. “A BJP man, who has an office above our stall, came and said that a television would be installed outside our shop for the chai pe charcha. And he put up posters. We are not supposed to do anything except serve tea,” said Parbatbhai, an ardent supporter of the BJP. So far, this is the only stall from Rajkot to be picked for chai pe charcha programme.
(Inputs by Kumar Anand & Aditi Raja in Vadodra, Ritu Sharma & Tanvir Siddiqui in Ahmedabad, Gopal Kateshiya in Rajkot and Kamaal Saiyed in Surat)