For 1,500 people gathered at a popular tea and snacks stall on SG highway in Ahmedabad on February 12, it was a moment of curiosity. They wondered how Narendra Modi, the BJP’s prime ministerial nominee, would conduct a discussion across the country over a cup of tea.
Around 7pm, amidst high security, Modi reached the venue from where he was to address gatherings at 1,000 tea stalls in different parts of India. Soon enough, the Gujarat chief minister known for his oratory, sitting on a chair surrounded by his supporters, started sipping tea while recalling his childhood days of serving tea in Ahmedabad.
Modi used a 3D hologram technology innovatively to address election rallies at several dozen places simultaneously during the 2012 Gujarat assembly polls. He is now using a mix of various technologies for his Chai Pe Charcha campaign for the parliamentary polls, addressing and interacting with people at 1,000 tea stalls equipped with giant TV sets and projectors in 300 cities across the country.
Modi made his opening remarks on the theme of discussion before the question-answer session began. In the first session, Modi replied mostly in Hindi but also used English to field a question from a participant in Thiruvananthapuram.
“This unique initiative is meant to connect with voters, particularly young voters who are technology savvy,” a BJP leader involved in preparing the project said. “BJP workers are asked to bring people to the venues selected by local leaders in their respective cities,” he added.
This technology-driven and expensive initiative is being organised by Citizens for Accountable Governance (CAG), an entity set up by one of Modi’s personal aides, Prashant Kishore. The CAG serves as personal think tank for Modi as it has hired many professionals, including IIT and IIM alumni, and has also organised several events and programmes to provide him a platform.
“The BJP and Modi can counter any allegation on funding of the programmes on the ground that they are being held by an independent entity,” said a source.
During the live event, which is also broadcast on TV channels and internet, participants from a connected venue can ask Modi a question on a range of issues such as good governance, green technology, tackling corruption, how to improve the education system in the country and his achievements as chief minister.
In the first session, Modi answered nearly 30 questions posed by participants from Varanasi to Thiruvananthapuram and many other places. An insider, however, said, “Questions are pre-selected and Modi prepares detailed answers well in advance.”
The first session, covered extensively by the media, drew sharp reactions from critics who described the initiative as “another political gimmick to woo voters”.
Touch of tech
* Chai Pe Charcha with NaMo is being organised by Citizens for Accountable Governance, Modi’s think tank set up by his personal aide, Prashant Kishore.
* The initiative uses a mix of satellite, DTH, internet and mobile technology to connect around 1,000 tea stalls equipped with huge TV sets or projectors.
* The first round of Chai Pe Charcha on February 12 at 1,000 places in 300 cities across India is estimated to have directly engaged more than 500,000 people.
* The BJP plans to organise 15 more such sessions in the run-up to the parliamentary polls and aims to connect Modi with 20 million voters.
* During the event, Modi will remain at a location to address people at all venues. Participants can interact with him live over audio-video conferencing.
* Sources close to Modi say the initiative will also counter criticism that he only delivers speeches at political rallies but never interacts with people.