It all started with the Congress leader Mani Shakar Iyer, calling Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi a "chai-wallah", who doesn't know politics, on January 17 on the side-lines of the AICC session in Delhi.
Modi's strategists picked up the barb, and translated it to their political advantage, by networking 'chaiwallahs' all over country through state-of-art technology, starting a programme "Chai Pe Charcha". Taking cue from Modi, close associates of Rashtriya Janata Dal supremo Lalu Prasad Yadav are planning to network milk men (doodhwallahs) across his native state of Bihar to reclaim political ground. "We are still planning to make use of Laluji's credentials of raising cattle and selling milk to network the voters," said one of his confidants.
In his first programme a few days back, Modi relayed his message across 1,000 tea-stalls in 100 cities. The UPA government think-tanks decided to give a befitting reply in the form of approving the Street Vendors (Protection of Livelihood and Regulation of Street Vending) Bill-2014 in Rajya Sabha without discussion and amidst din on Wednesday.
The law, which was passed by Lok Sabha last year, provides protection of livelihood rights, social security of street vendors and regulation of urban street vending in the country.
The law now provides constitution of a town vending authority in each local authority to ensure participatory decision-making for aspects relating to street vending activities such as determination of natural market, identification of vending zones, preparation of street vending plan and survey of street vendors.
Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi also took keen interest in the passage of this Bill. He conducted several meetings with the National Association of Street Vendors of India over the past few days.
"I would say that chaiwallahs, newspaperwallahs or moongfaliwallahs – each one of them is a vital part of the fabric of our nation," said the union minister and Congress spokesperson Shashi Tharoor, when asked if the Bill was hastily passed due to Modi's tea-stall campaign. Congress had earlier alleged that Modi's first interaction with "chai-wallahs" has cost his party Rs 250 crore.
Tharoor said street vendors, including chaiwallahs, had been supporters of the Congress historically and other members of the country's hard-working under class. Targeting Modi, he said people should not forget that these people are also participating in "our economic lives at the lowest levels of the ladder and for us we do not discriminate between the chaiwallahs or newspaperwallahs".
The legislation now set to become a part of the statue, after President Pranab Mukherjee gives his assent in a few days, has given street vendors or hawkers a right to conduct their businesses. They were routinely hounded out as nuisance to public and their goods confiscated by the authorities.