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BREWING STRONG

A ‘tea party’ movement, with an ideological flavour that is somewhat similar to the one found in the United States of America, is brewing in India. Through its ‘chai pe charcha’ (discussion over tea) programme, the Bharatiya Janata Party’s prime ministerial candidate, Narendra Modi, seeks to connect with the masses by directly videoconferencing with tea vendors across the country.

The 21st century Tea Party movement in the US is not a formal political party, and hardly has anything to do with the Boston Tea Party of 1773. Though it claims to be a grassroots movement which draws support from Republicans, Democrats, Libertarians and Independents, the truth is that it is essentially an ultra-conservative group. Even though it tries to trace its origin to the Boston Tea Party of 1773 the fact is that the Tea Party movement in present day America shares resemblances with Modi’s campaign in India.

The Tea Party movement takes stands on a number of issues. Some of these include the beliefs that immigration is illegal, pro-domestic employment is indispensable, a strong military is essential, ‘special interests’ must be eliminated, gun ownership is sacred, the government must be downsized, the national budget must be balanced, deficit spending must end, bailout and stimulus plans are illegal, personal and business income taxes must be reduced, political posts must be available to average citizens, intrusive governance must be stopped, English should remain the core language and traditional family values must be encouraged. The movement is strong in the Bible belt, which is essentially a Republican bastion in the south of the country. Ironically, Boston does not fall in this region.

Talk over tea

Here in India, the ‘chai pe charcha’ campaign was launched with the aim of capturing the imagination of voters at the grassroot level, especially in the cow belt. If the Tea Party movement in the US includes those who possess a strong belief in Judeo-Christian values and talk of pruning governmental expenditure but not the defence budget, its counterpart in India boasts of the Hindutva ideology and strong cultural nationalism.

The truth is that the modern Tea Party movement hardly has anything to do with tea or the business of tea. The Boston Tea Party, in contrast, was a movement of resistance throughout British America against the Tea Act, which had been passed by the British parliament in 1773. The objections of the people to the Tea Act were due to their belief that it violated their rights as Englishmen to “No taxation without representation” — that is, to be taxed only by their own elected representatives and not by a parliament in which they were not represented.

The protest started on December 16, 1773 in which the demonstrators threw the entire supply of tea shipped by the East India Company into the Boston harbour. The British parliament retaliated in 1774 with the series of punitive laws. Among other things, these laws ended local self-government in Massachusetts and closed Boston’s commerce. These measures were in turn met with more protests. The First Continental Congress was convened, which petitioned the British monarch for the repealing of these laws. The crisis continued to burgeon, and the American revolutionary war began near Boston in 1775. The country finally became independent a year later.

If the Tea Party movement in present day America takes inspiration from what happened over two centuries ago in Boston, in India the BJP is trying to gain political mileage from the Congress’ ‘chaiwalla’ barb at Modi. It is perhaps incidental that the ‘chai pe charcha’ programme almost coincided with Modi’s meeting with the US ambassador to India, Nancy Powell. One wonders whether they actually took tea or not in the course of the meeting.