The first thing that stands out when you enter the tiny Vadnagar railway station is a huge structure wrapped in a sheet with marigold flowers adorning it. Suddenly, some young boys come to remove the garlands, telling me they are stale and each morning they put up fresh ones.
But what’s so special about the structure? It’s a replica of a tea stall. Vadnagar station is now famous as it is here that Prime Minister Narendra Modi began selling tea while helping his father who too would sell tea at this station to earn a living.
The tea stall now is a centre of attraction and the culture ministry has decided to convert it into a heritage site. It is covered in glass and the original form is protected. The station director tells me a replica has been created and taken to Delhi where it will be put on show. Sources say that there is a plan to showcase this tea stall replica at the Pradhanmantri Sangrahalaya or the PM Museum in Delhi.
But it’s Vadnagar that is excited. The small, sleepy township, about 100 km from Ahmedabad, rarely sees much activity. But now the PM has flagged off the Gandhinagar-Varetha train, which passes through Vadnagar. It’s part of a heritage circuit and with the train stopping here to pick up and drop tourists, the shops around have been spruced up, bringing hope of economic activity and growth.
It was the humble cup of tea that catapulted the chief minister of Gujarat to the top post of Prime Minister. And once again, as the state heads into elections, the tea has become the fulcrum of politics. The Congress has burnt its fingers and refrains from making any jibes at the PM over the “chaiwala” issue, but the Aam Aadmi Party has decided not to hold back and has come out with a plan.
As we step out of the station, we see young volunteers serving what they call “extra sweet chai”. In 2017, the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party lost in the hometown of the PM, which falls under the Unjha constituency in the Mehsana district. The BJP is now aggressively wooing this area and constituency to push the Congress out, but, more importantly, to ensure AAP makes no inroads. But for AAP, it’s more about proving a point, or rather a tea point.
So, its volunteers are seen outside the small station serving tea. A sip and when you say its sweetness is killing you, they say, “We want to tell the BJP that their chai has lost its sweetness. We will bring it back.”
Vadnagar is the axis of the BJP’s emotive value, as the stationmaster and a BJP supporter tell me. He is Yogesh Patel, and he says, “We don’t have to prove a point. The PM has shown that he can grow from a humble beginning to becoming the most powerful man. He is giving back to Vadnagar what he got from here. This place is now going to be connected well.”
But for the BJP, it’s now become a prestige fight once again. With the Congress sweeping the Saurashtra belt in the 2017 Gujarat assembly polls and the BJP almost wiped out, the ruling party’s mission is to come back here. And for AAP, it’s the party’s way of using the cup of tea to make the point that the BJP cannot succeed in its mission.
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