As Narendra Modi prepares to stand up at Red Fort for the final time of his term, V. Kumara Swamy of The Telegraph newspaper sits down to chat with a chaiwala.
Not just any old chaiwala, but the capital’s most famous one: Laxman Rao, 65, the chaiwala who, unlike India’s most famous chaiwala, can quote Shakespeare and Socrates.
Unlike the PM, Laxman Rao has a genuine BA and an MA, has 18 published books and writes at least a 1,000 words a day (his own, unlike someone else’s).
These are the points Rao, an “enthusiastic supporter” of Modi in 2014, makes today, while the BJP and its megaphones in the media spin the next episode of a serial murder that has (so far) seen joblessness, demonetisation, GST, lynchings.
And all this before Rs 15 lakh is deposited.
# “We have a chaiwala PM but people think twice before buying even a cup of tea. Even the autorickshaw drivers, who used to mill around my stall, seem to have gone missing of late.”
# “I used to sell a cup of tea for seven rupees in 2014 or maybe eight rupees. I sell it for 10 now. But don’t ask me if my profits have increased.”
# “I don’t know the impact of the falling rupee on our country but I can tell you that a hundred rupee note has no value these days. And if the economy is doing so well and there are jobs, where are all these people with jobs? Why are they not coming out on the streets after office hours and having tea?”
# “Four years ago, I used to earn around Rs 15,000 per month minus all the expenses. I make the same amount of money today or even a little less. The number of people who used to come to my stall has gone down. You cannot call it moving forward. My life hasn’t changed at all. In fact, I have seen the quality of life going down among the people I know.”
# “If anybody has gained because of Modi, it is the industrialists. In my opinion, they haven’t done anything wrong if they have gained. They helped Modi become the PM and it is natural for them to expect something in return.”
# “Tea sales nosedived and the introduction of Rs 2,000 notes meant that I had no change to offer to people who were ready to buy my books. I didn’t sell a single copy after demonetisation for three months. In fact, sales haven’t recovered after November 2016.”
# “I can tell you that Modi’s graph has fallen by 80 per cent since 2014. Even hardcore supporters of the BJP say that he has been bad for small businesses and jobs. But then I also get to hear that Modi will be a good man to keep the Muslims under control.”
# “I fail to understand how Muslims have hurt India and why many people don’t want them to be treated as normal citizens. You cannot become a good Hindu by burning their homes or lynching them. You become a good Hindu by being a good human being.”
# “Running down your rivals and focussing on winning elections is the job of your party. You are the Prime Minister of this country. Those who voted against you are also the citizens of this country. Act with dignity, be large-hearted and open-minded.”
Hopefully, the saffron thugs won’t get Laxman Rao’s tea stall on Vishnu Digamber Marg in central Delhi vandalised or shut down after this.