India PM candidate Narendra Modi's tea party

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Media captionDiscussions over tea in the Indian election campaign

Indian election campaigns are lively, colourful affairs which many believe best capture the essence of its democracy. But the 2014 elections are seeing some politicians use unique ways of communicating with the voters. One of them is the opposition candidate, the BJP's Narendra Modi, as Sanjoy Majumder found out.

Nestled between the upmarket neighbourhood of Jor Bagh in Delhi and Lodhi Colony, predominantly populated by low-ranking government officials is the local market.

Like most Indian markets, it has a local tea shop where the residents drop for a steaming cup of their favourite brew and gossip about what's making news.

This evening, the mood is slightly different at Sohan Lal's tea shop.

The locals have gathered as usual but their eyes are fixed on two video monitors from which the opposition BJP's candidate for prime minister, Narendra Modi, is holding forth.

Paper cups with Mr Modi's picture emblazoned on them are being handed out by volunteers.

It would not have been unusual except for the fact that this scene was being repeated at more than 1,000 tea shops across India, simultaneously.


It's Narendra Modi's "Chai Pe Charcha" - a discussion over tea, during which he lays out his vision for India, holds forth on a range of topics and, more significantly, takes questions from the audience.

Today Mr Modi has placed himself at the BJP party headquarters in central Delhi where he is communicating with his audience via multiple video links.

There are inevitable technical glitches, and the connection with a set of voters in the southern city of Hyderabad snaps but altogether it holds together quite well.

It may be a gimmick but it's got the audience intrigued.

"Often politicians are unable to get their point across," says one elderly gentleman as he helps himself to a plate of biscuits.

"And voters have no way of communicating directly with the politicians. This new approach certainly addresses that."

Image copyright AFP
Image caption Surveys say Mr Modi's support has grown ahead of the elections

It's an approach that characterises the campaign of Mr Modi, blending hi-tech savviness with a robust, town-hall style pitch.

"I was just passing by when I could sense something was going on," one young woman tells me.

"So I decided to come take a look. I don't think I've ever seen a tea party like this before."

Most of the people at Sohan Lal's teashop, it has to be said, are die-hard Modi supporters so in some senses he is preaching to the converted.

'Big show'

But his volunteers are attempting to take his tea party to places where the party is not as secure politically. He is helped in no measure by the fact that the event is carried live by almost every Indian television news station ensuring that he reaches an even larger audience.

It also very cleverly plays on Mr Modi's own humble origins. His father owned a tea-stall and the young Modi often helped out there - something which he loses no time emphasising.

Whatever else, it's got people talking.

Even India's independent Election Commission has cracked down, asking the Modi campaign to seek its permission before holding more tea parties and mulling over whether serving free tea amounts to bribing voters.

How effective will it be? Just at the end of the lane near Sohan Lal's teashop I meet a sceptic.

"It's just a big show which will amount to nothing," says the middle-aged man who says he lives around the corner.

"Everyone here is a BJP supporter. The others are not going to make up their mind over a silly cup of tea."

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