Brewing more than just a storm in the teacup

Sharad Pawar has finally made up his mind which side he will be on in 2019.

mumbai Updated: Apr 10, 2018 14:40 IST
Sujata Anandan
Sujata Anandan
Hindustan Times
Mumbai,Mumbai news,Sharad Pawar
A 577 percent rise in the amount of tea consumed by the CMO raises suspicion in the rural mind about the kind of decadence in play in high offices in the country (Picture for representation)

The gloves are off and the battle lines now seem fully defined. A 577 percent rise in the number of teas consumed by the chief minister’s office might seem like a silly issue for a leader of Sharad Pawar’s stature to mock at, but the NCP president knew exactly what he was doing when he compared his own modest tea bills while in office as chief minister to Devendra Fadnavis’. Pawar has finally made up his mind which side he will be on in 2019 and he will be playing the classic rural-urban divide by kicking up several storms in those innumerable teacups.

I believe there were two levels on which Pawar was targeting the Fadnavis government on its penchant for endless cups of tea. The NCP chief has always emphasised on the urban constituencies of most BJP leaders, mocking their lack of understanding of issues that affect farmers and drive their choices. Tea is one of them. Although it has become the national drink of much of India after the British introduced it to the nation in a big way, there remains a strong suspicion among many in the villages that tea is addictive (which it is), a stimulant (which it could quite be) and an intoxicant (which it most certainly is not). Many in the villages still prefer a glass of milk or lassi to tea or coffee, even in vast areas of south India which grow the leaves and beans that make up the beverages.

So a 577 percent rise in the amount of tea consumed by the CMO raises suspicion in the rural mind about the kind of decadence in play in high offices in the country and I wonder if the CM realises that Pawar’s finger pointing was not just aimed at alleged corruption but more. For, I believe, his next question to the villagers would be to ask them if they were ever invited to a cup of tea with Devendra Fadnavis. Tea is synonymous with caste discrimination in many rural areas of the country wherein tea vendors have two sets of tumblers for the consumers depending on the castes they may belong to. To break this habit of discrimination Shahu Maharaj of Kolhapur, in the early 20th century, had deliberately set up a Dalit as a tea vendor within the limits of his kingdom and made it a point to stop for tea at his shop in full public view.

But the fact that this kind of discrimination continues more than a century later in parts of India was starkly outlined when, as late as 2012, the Tamil Nadu government set cops upon its rural tea vendors to stop them using different tumblers and organised an early version of – yes! - ‘chai pe charcha’ to get all communities to drink tea together out of the same set of tumblers. So I am presuming another seemingly frivolous question will follow – did Fadnavis ever treat you (the villagers) to tea? And, if so, were they paper cups or the same porcelain that he drank tea out of?

I believe Fadnavis is quite out of his depth on this one. For one must not forget Pawar’s uncharacteristic call to voters in 2014 to safeguard the state from slipping back into the hands of the Peshwas (read Brahmins) who were the most discriminatory rulers in Maharashtra. Pawar’s allusion was clearly towards Fadnavis and Nitin Gadkari, the two tallest leaders in the BJP at the time, gaining the office of the chief minister. The Maratha morchas which called for the dilution of the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act that sowed the seeds for the attempted humiliation of Dalits at Bhima Koregaon, wherein BJP ideologues have been identified as the provocateurs, has rendered the caste equations fragile and the BJP can clearly not win this one.

When Fadnavis attempted to threaten Pawar with consequences of fingering him on his tea consumption (the pointer was to Narendra Modi’s resounding victory after expelled Congress leader Mani Shankar Aiyar dismissed him as a mere ‘chaiwala’), he should have been thinking of more than a straightforward political response. Pawar is too wise and shrewd not to know the dangers of mocking any one on his or her humble origins. What he was actually doing was egging Fadnavis into a response that could be used to crucify him and his party in good time. Fadnavis almost fell into that trap and should have chosen to ignore Pawar rather than be drawn into a game he could only end up losing.

First Published: Apr 10, 2018 14:40 IST