In Vadodara, it's 'chaiwala' vs 'chawlwala'

In Vadodara, it's 'chaiwala' vs 'chawlwala'

The Congress hopes that AICC general secretary Madhusudan Mistry’s “chawlwala” (shanty dweller) image will effectively counter BJP prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi at Vadodara, whose “chaiwala” tag is said to have brought him considerable sympathy.

A day after Modi said the 2014 election was a battle between a “Shahzada” (Rahul Gandhi) and a “Chaiwala” (himself), the Congress has zeroed in on Mistry, whose humble background of growing up among textile mill workers in shanties, the party hopes, will help to win the seat.

Mistry said the real fight is between a “Chaiwala” and a “Chawlwala”.  “If he (Modi) is a ‘chaiwala’, I am ‘chawlwala’. He is not a candidate of the poor,” he said in Delhi, dismissing the saffron leader’s projection of himself as a humble tea vendor rising to be the BJP prime ministerial candidate. Mistry was born in the pre-Independence era at Asarwa in Ahmedabad, where workers of now-closed textile mills lived. He grew up in chawls (shanties). After his post graduation, he began his career as a lecturer in Ahmedabad but soon quit the job to join the Majoor Mahan and became a trade union activist.

After his brief stint as a union leader, Mistry went to Oxford on a scholarship for a course on development studies. Leaders who have worked with Mistry say his focus has been on tribes. Later, he worked as a field officer for the non-governmental organisation Oxfam and was also involved in launching an NGO, Developing Initiatives for Social and Human Action (DISHA). It is through DISHA that he was able to mobilise dalits, forest dwellers and tribal women and get a ticket to Parliament.

Modi didn’t plan on using the “Chaiwala” tag. He merely converted a barb from Congr­ess leader Mani Shankar Aiyer into a marketing ploy. Aiyer’s attack helped Modi use his humble background to good effect and also start “Chai pe Charcha” gatherings across the nation to woo voters. Over the past couple of decades, Vadodara has become a BJP stronghold. Except for a brief interlude of two years (1996-98), the BJP has clung on to the constituency since 1991.

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