Chaiwallah, redux

My earlier post on Narendra Modi — which was then carried by Scroll — elicited some kind words on social media. Thank you. It generated some abuse as well. Which was no surprise.

Alongside the kind words and the abuse were some questions — which, condensed, fell into two broad buckets:

#1. It was Mani Shankar Aiyar who first called Modi “chaiwallah”.

Yes it was. So? That is sort of the point — Aiyar, whose pronouncements are spectacularly asinine, gifted-wrapped a talking point which Modi seized on, like experienced debaters do, and beat his opponents to pulp with.

Fair enough — that is part of the cut and thrust of electioneering. The point is, it is now 22 months and counting since the elections got over.

It is no more about what your origins were — it is about what you are doing, or not, with the power you fought for and won.

#2. The chaiwallah origins matter. To suggest otherwise is to denigrate all that Modi accomplished.

On the contrary. ‘Chaiwallah” was, even on the stump, a mere “gotcha”. It had nothing to do with why a majority of the country — or at least, a majority of those who turned up — voted for Modi. Even Anupam Kher, who can’t seem to let it go, did not vote for Modi because he was a chaiwallah.

Consider how ridiculous that sounds. Oh, he was a chaiwallah — let’s vote to give him control of the country, since he clearly knew how to run a tea-stall. Seriously?

The reason people voted for him was that his administrative record — of a decade-plus at the helm of one of our most prosperous, most industrialised states — contrasted with the total mismanagement that was UPA-II. And, therefore, that track record gave the voter the hope that what Modi did for Gujarat (and I am not getting into what exactly that was here) would be what Modi will do for the country at large.

It was all about transplanting the Gujarat model onto the nation at large, remember?

In passing, this is also why the constant harping over the many sins of ommission and commission committed by the Congress has also passed its use-by date. You made the point. We got it. And gave you the power to do something about it.

And you do what?

In April 2014 you invoke the Supreme Court and indict the Aadhaar scheme as a massive loot of the national treasury — and from the moment you gain office you push that exact same scheme as hard as you can, to the extent of wanting to make it mandatory.

You boast (inaccurately) that your government has provided the most funds ever, for a scheme you excoriated repeatedly as a “living memorial to failure“.

Then there are the scams — some listed here, more not. And the use of brute force against dissent. And the party faithful spouting the most arrant, even dangerous, nonsense, which you are totally unable to control. And…

That is why Arun Shourie’s “Congress plus a cow” resonates. And why “chaiwallah” and “Congress bad” no longer does — the country gave you power to do something about it, not act like a stuck gramaphone record.


4 thoughts on “Chaiwallah, redux

  1. Prem, I actually agree with your overall content which in essence is captured by It is no more about what your origins were — it is about what you are doing, or not, with the power you fought for and won. and the I wrote “attract voters” deliberately to reinforce that perspective. If anything, I think that that the “jealousy at the chaiwallah” angle is being thrown due to the absence of a rational response and to attack a nonexistent undercurrent in the debate.

    I was just picking a nit, if I may call it that.

  2. Agreed @ Karthik. Isn’t it the same cliche as ‘From the Log Cabin to the White House’? Did they skip the intermediate steps where he became a lawyer? Of course they did! That IS the point! More correctly it should resonate as ‘despite starting life as a chaiwallah, NaMo became the PM of the most (or second most) populous nation in the world’. Most of those words are left unsaid. And the contrast is vividly drawn against the sliver-spooned RaGa.

  3. Oh, he was a chaiwallah — let’s vote to give him control of the country, since he clearly knew how to run a tea-stall.
    Actually, I think the inherent argument is slightly different than that. He was a chaiwallah– let’s vote to give him control of the country since that would help us believe that a chaiwallah can rise to become a prime minister, or in other words, let us vote to create our version of the “Indian dream” (and in turn inspire others). Not that it is a great reason to vote for someone, but this has been a recurrent phenomenon in America, where politicians attract voters with the “I was born in a tiny cabin that I built myself”.

    • Karthik, and Sai — can we take a step back here? My post was about a particular line, a thought, that was part of a particular speech. (A thought that found fairly wide acceptance among a section of society). That thought holds that a chaiwallah became a PM, provoking jealousy. My response — as you both know — was aimed at that fairly simplistic trope.

      As far as the “log cabin to president” meme goes, I understand the appeal of such Horatio Alger stories, and don’t dispute it (IIRC, I said as much in the original post). The limited point I make is that such rags to riches stories are great on the stump, but not so much when it comes to explaining away the record of governance or, as in this case, deflecting discussion *from* it.

      You said it yourself, Karthik — it is widely prevalent in America “where politicians attract voters”. Hence my point: the meme has served its turn. Time to mothball it.

      In passing, Karthik, you mention the inherent argument is that it is an attempt to build an Indian version of the fabled American Dream. Maybe. I saw in it merely a colossal screw-up by a Congress functionary who used it in derogatory fashion — only, the target was smart enough to take the barb and make it work for him. Hey, good on him — but enough already, no?

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