Turning An Insult Into An Advantage
Chai Pe Charcha might be a gimmick as most liberals and green-faced rivals allege but it is the best mode of communication to reach out to masses in a big country like India. It would also expose a couple of BJP’s former ministers who are already acting as VIPs and avoiding meeting people. The chai pe charcha could be condemned by a few and dismissed as street theatre but some questions at the meetings showed that the intelligentsia and thinking people attend. Narendra Modi or in fact any leader of a party has to reach out to the people, after Arvind Kejriwal and his Aam Aadmi Party showed in the Delhi Assembly election that if people are won over, they will not only support but help in winning without the use of too much of funds or fanfare. Post-AAP way of reaching out to the voter by contacting as many as possible, other parties were left with little choice but to emulate AAP’s.
The voter has now developed sense of powder and the desire to actively be involved in electing a candidate, in fact to be involved as much as possible in the election. Modi could not reach out to the people like Kejriwal as “India is too big” to emulate Kejriwal, who had to contact people in Delhi only. So his team of technology and computer–savvy young persons, trying to evolve new methods for reaching Modi’s messages to maximum number of people hit upon the chai pe charcha-post taunt by Mani Shankar Aiyer, Congress nominated Rajya Sabha MP. He said that a chaiwala can never become prime minister of India, but if Modi desires we can provide him space opposite 24, Akbar Road, headquarters of the Congress party.
Turning the taunt to Modi’s advantage, BJP poll managers decided to use Modi’s background to reach out to the maximum number of voters by inviting them to talk to the leader as part of the initiative.
This would also expose BJP’s former ministers and MPs’ ability and desire to meet people. In fact Modi would be very interested in knowing who two former ministers are who have no time for common persons most of whom want to convey their impression of BJP’s chances in their areas. In any case, no one would go to them for any work as they cannot do anything being out of power.
Since starting the event on February 12—conducted across 1000 locations in 300 cities, including 61 locations in 22 cities and towns in Gujarat, via video conferencing using “a unique combination of satellite, DTH, internet and mobile, for his chai pe charcha, a mega outreach programme which is part of his campaign for general elections due by May—Modi has spoken on a variety of issues including transportation problems, governance, India’s educational system among other issues. There is a theme for every event like ‘Good Governance’ on the first day. Most people put questions which Modi has to answer.
BJP managers say it is an out-of-the-box initiative that bucks traditional campaigning methods by facilitating discussion simultaneously in multiple locations. The BJP will hold between 12 and 15 such sessions, with other top leaders also engaging with the public over tea.
Sample of some questions to Modi show how intelligent people gathered at the chai pe charcha events and not as critics say only “tamasha dekhnewale”. On a question about terrorism he said, “Post-9/11, US strengthened their security measures and all other countries followed suit. India needs to work on this aspect and get stricter policies. Also, we need to make optimum use of technology to curb terrorism at ground level.”
When asked about bad rankings of Indian universities as compared to foreign varsities, Modi reportedly said, “India needs to focus on research aspects and improve the quality of universities. Research should be the prime focus aspect as universities need to provide insights that can help in good governance.” A discussion on empowerment of women is sure to draw huge number of women and women’s organisations. There are many other issues mentioned on the website that citizens have to select: supply of drinking water at home, supply of electricity, conditions of road, law and order situation, education facilities for students, medical facilities, safety for women, availability of affordable housing, employment opportunities.
Uday India visited a tea stall in RK Puram where its owner was offering to customers politics. For, at his shop, Bharatiya Janata Party’s prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi was addressing customers over a video link. The audience included auto rickshaw drivers, daily wagers, Modi supporters and curious onlookers. For the tea stall owner it meant publicity and business as well. And, also pride.”I am happy to say that a person who had sold tea is contesting for the country’s top job.”
The volunteers of NaMo Peravai, an organisation campaigning for Modi, had arranged for live streaming of ‘chai pe charcha’, in the tea shop and also at four more places in Coimbatore. The Peravai volunteers informed that they had approached a few tea shop owners more than a month ago seeking their consent. If nothing else lakhs of tea vendors have been won over by Modi’s scheme. Tea stalls near Modi’s rallies are also being roped in. At these places tea is sold at Rs 2 which is Rs 3 less than the normal rate.
It has gone international. The Indian-American professionals met at an Indian tea-stall in Ortega Park in Sunnyvale as part of the volunteer group “I Care for India”, a press statement said. In Silicon Valley too 60 executives have joined with a tea stall set up there. It is however inevitable in politics that any scheme floated by a party comes for criticisms by the rivals. Mamta Banerjee cocking a snook at the “chai pe charcha” campaign dubbed it a “drama” ahead of the Lok Sabha polls. “Politics does not mean posing for the media. Politics needs dedication and devotion. Politics requires simple living…” Likewise many others have bluntly said that it was a sale and self-promotion gimmick, a street theatre which people just watch and forget. Alaqusy Padamsee said that at a tea shop he saw hardly 40 people and that people were and moving out. But Dilip Cherian, the ace advertising man, said a Modi wave is blowing and the chai pe charcha is a good way to reach people. Modi is harnessing and harvesting the wave and riding on it. Asked whether high tide could drown him, he said no, Modi has taken care not to be knocked by either side.
Prahlad Kakkar, another advertising guru, too said that the Modi wave is unstoppable and the chai pe charcha was the best extension of the door to door campaign of Arvind Kejriwal. Modi would surely be able to reach masses and be able to also convey his views on issues of interest to the people. Sunil Shastri speaking about the scheme said it was a wonderful innovation and he had gone round and found that it has had tremendous impact. In UP and Bihar, he said, it was not simply a wave but a tsunami. No regional parties would be able to stop Modi fro racing to secure maximum number of seats. But to gauge the reaction in the audiences, Such popularity of the scheme which on a rough estimate has attracted 12 lakh people in five days—people at tea stall and TV viewers—is sure to win many votes for the BJP. The reason is that it is not a monologue but an interaction between Modi and the people, where they ask questions on topics of their interest. This way they learn what Modi’s ideas are and how he intends to implement them. This is the ideal way for the people to decide about India’s next prime minister.
By Vijay Dutt