It was Narendra Modi in charcha, largely solitary. A glass of tea in his hand and seated on the road outside Iskcon Ganthia in Ahmedabad Wednesday, Modi turned chai pe charcha into a mostly one-way event.
Volunteers of Citizens for Accountable Governance (CAG), the NGO hosting the event, partnered by a famous electronics goods brand that had provided the LCD screens, were there dressed in blue kurtas. They even set up impromptu tea hangouts where there were none.
Like in Vadodara’s Darbar Chowkdi in Manjalpur where a decorated counter, serving ready-made tea from a party kettle, was set up. Narendra Patel, BJP ward executive of the area, said, “This vendor operates on his mobile phone and supplies tea all over the area. We have stuck to his concept.”
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Even at the Iskcon Ganthia, where Modi was in flesh and blood and described the event as a “footpath Parliament”, nobody asked questions, although many were made to sit close to Modi. Technical snags did not allow questions to be aired from some places and in Gujarat, Vadodara was the only centre to get a question.
Crowds at most venues were mostly of local BJP leaders and workers. Tea was free at all venues. In Rajkot, none of the three venues had arrangements to allow people to ask questions to Modi. “Our focus is on states like West Bengal, Tamil Nadu and others where Modi is not very popular. So, interactive systems were set up there. He is quite well-known in Rajkot so we don’t have plan to facilitate interactive sessions here,” said Binit Gandhi, local coordinator of CAG.
Meghnathi Rajeshgiri, 20, who brewed the tea for Modi at Iskcon Ganthia, said, “I made tea on my own. Nobody briefed me. Modi had two full cups of tea at my stall.” Mandeep Patel, who runs the Ganthia, shop said that she got to know only at 10 am that Modi was coming to her shop. At Surat’s Pooja tea stall, 13-year old Hem was returning from school on his bicycle and stopped by to have tea and watch Modi on the screen. Most tea vendors went home happy, having sold almost double the tea in these two hours than they sold the whole day.
Pooja tea stall owner, Bharat Mali, sold 700 cups on Wednesday, double his usual sale. “I had purchased extra milk bags and stocked up tea leaves. I have got advance payment from the local BJP leader who told me to keep a record of the tea supplied during the event, “said Mali.
At Jaihind Char Rasta in Maninagar, which is Modi’s constituency, the Chai pe Charcha suffered audio glitches. Pankaj Parikh, a former government employee, said at Maninagar that this event gave a glimpse into Modi’s future plans as prime minister.
Payal Patel, who claimed to have been Modi’s neighbour in Pidora Pol at hometown Vadnagar, said, “I know him for long from my Vadnagar days. He can be trusted by us, going by what he has been doing so well so far.”
Ahmed Ali Ansari, an unemployed tailor who has been looking for work for eight months, said, “This is all very illusive. Politicians like him are unpredictable. Much of all nice things he is saying right now will disappear after the election.”
A pair of TV sets, connected with direct-to-home placed at different tea points in the country, set the stage for the experiment.
Good governance being the theme, Modi discussed issues ranging from education to clean energy to black money to safety and ways to improve infrastructure, carefully answering questions asked from selective cities. In Chhani area of Vadodara, the tea hangout was conspicuous by absence of women audience.
The next chai pe charcha will be on “Women’s Empowerment”.