Mani Shankar Aiyar gives the BJP an issue on a platter

Congress leader Mani Shankar Aiyar has handed an invaluable election issue to Narendra Modi. The BJP has turned Aiyar’s jibe at Modi’s humble past as a tea vendor into a major poll plank.

Starting February 12, the BJP’s PM candidate will start the first round of chai pe charcha (discussion over tea) with participants spread over as many as 1,000 locations in 3,000 cities over DTH, satellite, internet, mobile phones as well as social media.

Senior leader Sushma Swaraj compared the campaign to the massive political mobilisation through LK Advani’s Rath Yatra in the early 1990s.

2-hour discussions

“Through the Rath Yatra, Advaniji communicated directly with people. Through chai pe charcha, Narendrabhai will similarly connect with people across the country.

“The BJP has adopted traditional door-to-door campaigns as well but technology provides us with modern means to connect directly with people. It supplements our outreach campaign,” Swaraj said.

The BJP has planned about 10-12 rounds of these discussions in which Modi, along with other senior leaders in the BJP, will communicate with supporters and voters. Each discussion will last about two hours. In the first 20 minutes, Modi will address different themes.

The first will be on good governance. Modi’s introduction will follow a discussion in which participants will be encouraged to ask questions.

The campaign has been designed by the BJP in coordination with the Centre for Accountability in Governance (CAG), a group of Modi supporters referred to by Swaraj as “people with an emotional connect with the BJP”.

She singled out two CAG volunteers, Prashant and Dipanshu Arora, who have created a visual around a tea shop and a theme song for the campaign.

Sharp response

The campaign is a sharp political response to Rajya Sabha MP and Congress leader Mani Shankar Aiyar’s invitation to Modi to sell tea at the AICC meeting venue in Talkatora stadium last month.

Modi had picked on Aiyar’s jibe at the BJP’s national council meeting on January 19 to underline the Congress’s elitism as opposed to the BJP’s mass appeal. “Narendrabhai has talked about it himself. His brother ran a tea stall and he used to sell tea in train compartments,” Swaraj said.

(This article was published on February 4, 2014)
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