Narendra Modi’s Main Bhi Chowkidar slogan aims to seal working class support by focusing on dignity of labour

Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s #MainBhiChowkidar campaign, launched on Tuesday shortly before it went viral on social media and topped the global trending chart on Twitter, is an interesting step in more ways than one.

The electoral campaign, released through a tweet, comprises a song and a few lines from the prime minister’s @narendramodi handle where he urges everyone to take the ‘Main Bhi Chowkidar’ (I am a watchman too) pledge and stresses that while he is standing firm and doing his work as the nation’s ‘chowkidar’, every Indian who is fighting corruption, dirt, social evils, or working hard for the progress of India is also a ‘chowkidar’. “Every Indian is saying #MainBhiChowkidar”, goes the slogan.

The three minute and forty-five second video features a catchy tune, a mélange of imageries and touches upon the flagship schemes launched by the NDA government such as Swachh Bharat scheme, Ujjawala Yojana etc, before ending with an appeal to people to join the PM’s "Main Bhi Chowkidar" programme on 31 March.

At one level, the video and the #MainBhiChowkidar slogan effectively kills Rahul Gandhi’s ‘chowkidar chor hai’ (the watchman himself is a thief) jibe that the Congress president has relentlessly propagated as the party’s signature slogan. Rahul's jibe centres around his accusations against the prime minister of corruption in Rafale deal. Be it in public rallies or TV debates, Congress politicians and spokespersons have made liberal use of the slogan to etch it in public memory. The attempt was to emulate the “gali gali mein shor hai, Rajiv Gandhi chor hai” slogan of the 1980s around the Bofors scandal.

But Rahul made one error: Rafale is no Bofors and Narendra Modi is no Rajiv Gandhi. Charges of corruption have not stuck to the prime minister despite Rahul’s untiring efforts. Modi has been able to sustain the image of incorruptibility and his post-Balakot ratings have soared even higher. What the “Main Bhi Chowkidar” slogan does, is neutralise Congress’ blunt weapon and allows Rahul an honourable exit in a way that he gets the chance to withdraw the ineffective slogan without major embarrassment.

If Modi’s campaign slogan becomes popular — and early signs show that it will — it could be a daft move on Congress’ part to push the ‘Chowkidar Chor Hai’ narrative when the idea of ‘Main Bhi Chowkidar’ gains traction. It will be an error on the lines of Hillary Clinton’s ‘Basket of Deplorables’ comment in 2016 to describe Americans who backed Donald Trump in the presidential campaign: a move she later regretted. Some analysts said the slogan cost her the job.

It would, however, be a narrow interpretation to see Modi’s ‘Main Bhi Chowkidar’ campaign solely as a rebuttal to Congress’ slogan. The timing is coincidental. ‘I am a chowkidar too’ is not just a catchy electoral slogan, but a statement that aims to correct injustices of the past and imbue dignity in labour, creating a new constituency of first-time entrepreneurs, blue-collar workers and the working class. The message of inclusiveness will resonate with the chaiwallahs, pakodawallahs, sanitation workers, chowkidars and others in the margin who may now feel themselves to be a part of the nation-building process.

It would be misleading to see ‘Main Bhi Chowkidar’ catchphrase as an ‘empty’ slogan timed only for electoral benefits. Modi has made a consistent effort all through his tenure to assimilate support from the working class by focusing on dignity of labour. Before even being voted to power, during his 2014 electoral campaign Modi turned around Congress leader Mani Shankar Aiyar’s classist jibe about tea-sellers to launch the ‘chai pe charcha’ programme that set the agenda and derailed Congress’ campaigns.

Modi’s reference to pakodawallahs, sanitation workers and those among the working class who put in an honest effort to make ends meet is consistent with his effort to break free of social prejudices. His washing of the feet of safai karmcharis (sanitation workers) who worked tirelessly to keep the Kumbh premises clean sent a powerful message of social inclusiveness. It might be more accurate to place the slogan in this context.

To call every Indian who is against corruption, dirt, social evils and is working hard for the nation’s prosperity is a positive political message unlike Congress’s ‘chor’ slogan, and it seems to have already set the electoral agenda, going by the way Congress has reacted. The repetition of the word ‘chowkidar’ and mainstreaming of it as a campaign slogan is at another level a mind game where the BJP is sticking with a lexicon which the Congress tried to subvert. It is Modi’s way of telling Rahul that his image will remain unaffected no matter how hard the Congress tries to sully it.

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Updated Date: Mar 16, 2019 19:29:48 IST

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