On Wednesday, Narendra Modi goes live on video for a conference with people hanging out at 1,000 tea stalls in 300 urban locations. The event’s managers in his home state have selected 69 stalls in 22 cities, none of these in riot-affected and communally sensitive areas.
On Ahmedabad’s Nikol-Chiloda Road, which passes Naroda Patia and Naroda Gaam, none of the 80 tea stalls rebranded NaMo (including one run by a Muslim) is part of the chai pe charcha programme. There is none in Meghaninagar, where the Gulberg Society is located, or in Juhapura, Gujarat’s largest Muslim ghetto. All seven stalls in Ahmedabad are near hangouts poular with the young and students, or in busy markets.
In Vadodara, all six stalls are in newly developed areas. And in Godhra, which saw the Sabarmati Express fire, the only stall is in a predominantly Hindu neighbourhood.
This when the majority of responses to a poll on a website dedicated to the chai pe charcha programme choose law and order as the most pressing issue. Following law and order, 24.3 per cent till Tuesday evening, is the condition of roads (22.4 per cent) and then education, water supply, medical facilities, electricity and women’s safety.
The event is being organised by Citizens for Accountable Governance, an NGO. Modi, sipping tea, will appear on a giant screen at each stall and answer governance-related questions selected by the NGO from its website.
Many vendors have little idea what their role is to be. “I have been told I have to make tea and serve 250 people together. These are apparently BJP workers,” says Khanchanlal Mansukhbhai, one of three vendors selected in Vadodara’s Manjalpur area. As for the other two, Ramesh Darbar and Arvind Maganlal Trivedi, fellow vendors said they had never heard of them.
Kanchanlal, 60, says he does not know what is going to happen Wednesday. He has put up a “Chai pe charcha Namo ke saath” poster and been handed a “Modi for PM fund” piggy bank, in which clients are donating funds. Other tea stall owners on his street have been removed. “I was actually taking down my stall too but BJP workers said my name has been registered.”
At Navrangpura in Ahmedababd is a stall that can hardly accommodate 10 persons. Its keeper Shilpesh Rathod is a third-generation BJP supporter, his grandfather Babulal Shah having contested elections for the Swatantra Paksh Party in the 1950s and his father Champak G Rathod having served as joint secretary in the state’s legal department.
In Rajkot, the only one selected is Khetla Appa Tea Stall, where Parbatbhai said, “Someone from the BJP came and put up this poster and said Modi will be speaking here February 12 on a huge screen and we have to serve tea. We have no other role.” His shop sells some 2,000 cups a day.
(Inputs by Kumar Anand & Aditi Raja in Vadodara)
UP: The state has 172 stalls for the programme at 41 centres, six of these in riot-affected Muzaffarnagar. “After consultation with locals, I have shortlisted the issues to discuss with Modiji,” said BJP leader Manoj Mishra, who will coordinate the progarmme at one stall, in Kanpur. Kanpur’s local issues include Ganga pollution, roads, and closure of cotton mills.
Bengal: The state will have 36 such stalls, including one at the BJP headquarters and a number of others at the wholesale trading hub at Burrabazar and in Kolkata North and South. Party leader Ritesh Tiwari said cha charcha in any case has a deep-rooted tradition in West Bengal, where politics and other subjects are discussed over tea. Even for its Brigade Parade Ground rally, the BJP had tried to attract people with 86 chai pe charcha centres across the state.
Karnataka: The programme
will cover 82 stalls including 25 in Bangalore. BJP spokesperson in Bangalore S Prakash said the event will be live only at one tea stall, in Rajajinagar area. Other centres include Mangalore, Mysore, Belgaum, Bagalkot, Bellary, Chikmagalur, Chitradurga, Dakshina Kannada, Davanagere, Gulbarga, Hassan, Haveri, Hubli, Kolar, Raichur, Shimoga, Tumkur, Udupi and Uttara Kannada.
In Bihar, the target audience is OBCs and EBCs
Patna: In Bihar, the chai pe charcha programme will include 36 stalls in 16 towns and cities, including Patna. The BJP here is looking at it as a means to reach out to OBC and EBC voters. The latter constitute 32 per cent of the population but comprise 150 castes, meaning they seldom vote as a block.
Having branded several tea outlets NaMo, the Bihar BJP has targeted Wednesday’s programme at tea vendors, rickshaw pullers and daily wagers who gather at tea stalls. BJP sources said with Rahul Gandhi having attacked Narendra Modi on his “tea vendor” identity and Bihar CM Nitish Kumar having derided the BJP’s “low tea politics”, it was all the more reason to cash in on this connect.
The Bihar BJP has been playing Modi’s EBC card. It has tried to woo OBC Yadavs, Lalu Prasad’s base vote, having chosen several Yadav tea vendors for the discussion. Patna, for instance, has Yadavji Tea Stall and Yogendra Yadav Tea Stall, though BJP leaders call it a coincidence. Modi had tried to woo Yadavs with his 27 October Hunkar Rally speech in Patna.
“The idea behind this novel move is to engage common people such as tea vendors, rickshaw pullers, small workers and students in direct discussion with Modiji. A first-hand impression of people is always helpful,” BJP state president Mangal Pandey told The Indian Express.