In 2014, when Narendra Modi was contesting the Lok Sabha elections as the BJP’s prime ministerial candidate, after being the chief minister of Gujarat from 2001 to 2014, it was ‘revealed’ to the country that he had sold tea in his youth. This was done to project his grassroots appeal and superior abilities in rising from poverty to political leadership. Vadnagar railway station was ‘identified’ as the site for this humble beginning. The government is spending money to convert the railway station into a tourist location.
In reality, Modi took over the management of his uncle’s canteen at the Geeta Mandir state transport depot in Ahmedabad when he was a teenager. This too was only for a short while.
At Akhbar Nagar circle, a major traffic junction in Amit Shah’s assembly constituency in Ahmedabad, passersby are graced with the huge model of a kettle surrounded by flames. It was built by the Silver Oak College of Engineering and Technology in 2014. At first glance, the kettle looks impressive. The problem with its design, if observed carefully, is that the handle is so connected that the kettle cannot be tilted to pour tea. However much one tilts the handle, the body of the kettle will remain stationary in a horizontal position.
The defective kettle is a telling description of the capability of some of our engineering institutions and the quality of their products but it is also symbolic of the Narendra Modi brand of politics. It is a bold display of a model which doesn’t work. Indeed, it is actually quite useless. Initially, it looks so real that one almost believes it will deliver tea. But if you take a close look at it then you realise you’ve been cheated.
Also read: The Truth Behind the Gujarat Growth Model
People pass by it everyday without comment. It is unclear whether they prefer to ignore it or are unaware of the defect. One also wonders whether the man who was the inspiration for the kettle model and the person who executed it both think that ordinary people are fools and are not worried about public opinion regarding the design flaw. The question is can all the people be fooled for all time to come? Or some day, will residents of the city feel embarassed enough to consider the model kettle a blot on their intellect and pull it down or at least try to rectify the defect by placing the handle at the right position?
That there was no truth in the story of Modi having been a tea seller in the past, is also clear from the way real tea vendors serving patients and their attendants outside the Banaras Hindu University (BHU) hospital in Lanka market are treated whenever Modi arrives in his parliamentary constituency. Modi’s helicopter used to land inside the BHU campus. All the tea vendors were treated as a security threat to him and were bundled away days in advance. Recently, the president of the vendors’ association, Chintamani Seth, handed over a memorandum detailing the loss the tea vendors had suffered during Modi’s numerous visits to Varanasi and claimed compensation from his local office. Vendors were denied their livelihood as long as their representative was in town. Could a real tea seller (even one who had sold tea long ago) have been so insensitive to his co-vendors? Modi’s office chose not to respond to the tea vendors’ memorandum.
With Adityanath as chief minster, life got even more difficult for the vendors. Usually, once Modi left Varanasi, the vendors would re-establish their shops. But under Adityanath, the police did not allow the vendors to return, and it took an agitation before they could set up shop again. The future of these tea vendors is uncertain in the ‘tea vending’ prime minister’s constituency.
The dead river
In 2014, Modi also made an election promise to Varanasi that he would clean the river Ganga the way he ’cleaned’ the Sabarmati in Ahmedabad. Three and a half years have passed, but little has been done to check sewerage from flowing into the river. The latest development is Nitin Gadkari going to London to raise money for the Clean Ganga Mission.
Upstream of Ahmedabad, the Sabarmati is dry with not a single drop of water present. It is only during the monsoon that some pools are visible. An unplanned diversion of water from the Narmada canal makes the 10-11 km of the Sabarmati passing through Ahmedabad city look resplendent. A river has been converted into a longitudinal lake. But downstream, the water is black as all the city’s industrial effluents, with or without going through a treatment plant, empties into it. The Sabarmati is crying out for help but there are no plans to revive or clean it.
The kettle and the Sabarmati are symbolic of Modi’s ‘Gujarat model’ of development which has now been thoroughly exposed. After waiting for many years expecting some miracle to take place, Gujarat’s citizens are finally asking questions. The power of youth represented by Hardik Patel, Alpesh Thakor and Jignesh Mewani is arrayed against the BJP government and Modi in particular, and the BJP doesn’t have a face which people find attractive enough this time.
The days of the ‘politics of symbolism’ seem numbered now.
Sandeep Pandey is an engineer.