From 'Main bhi chowkidar' to 'dictionary of love', how the BJP hijacked Opposition' slogans to its advantage

During the 1992 United States presidential elections, a campaign slogan coined by James Carville — campaign manager for Bill Clinton — hit the mark and struck a chord with the voters. Clinton defeated the incumbent Republican president George HW Bush, and the catchphrase, "It's the economy, stupid" by Carville became a case study for election campaign strategists.

The reason for the massive appeal of Carville’s slogan was that it succeeded in convincing the electorate that Clinton and his party are concerned about the plight of working people and Clinton's government, if voted to power, would work on that front.

In India, election campaigns are often remembered for the slogans and messages they tried to convey to voters. From Indira Gandhi’s "Garibi hatao, Indira lao, desh bachao" slogan given by the Congress in the 1971 elections to the slogans of "Jan Sangh ko vote do, bidi peena chhod do; Bidi mein tambaku hai, Congress-wala daaku hai” and "yeh dekho Indira ka khel, kha gayi shakkar, pee gayi tel” given by Jan Sangh during the 1977 elections, to the clarion call given by Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) of "Bachcha bachcha Ram ka, janmabhoomi ke kaam ka" during the 1990s — all of them changed the discourse of political campaigning.

 From Main bhi chowkidar to dictionary of love, how the BJP hijacked Opposition slogans to its advantage

File image of Prime Minister Narendra Modi. PTI

However, some catchphrases like "India Shining", launched by the BJP for the 2004 Lok Sabha elections, failed to deliver.

But what was noteworthy about campaigning the 2019 Lok Sabha election was the way the BJP hijacked the political slogans of the Congress to its advantage. The thrust of the Congress’ campaign was on highlighting the alleged irregularities in the Rafale deal and targeting Prime Minister Narendra Modi for the same. In an attempt to do so, Congress president Rahul Gandhi, while campaigning for the Rajasthan Assembly elections held in 2018, coined a slogan: chowkidar chor hai.

In September 2018, Rahul, addressing a rally in Dungarpur in Rajasthan, said, "Gali gali mein shor hai, Hindustan ka chowkidar chor hai (The whole country asserts, that the country's 'guard' is a thief)

Following this, Rahul used this catchphrase with confidence on multiple occasions. However, he ran into trouble when he attributed the phrase to the Supreme Court. For this, he had to face a contempt petition and had to tender an apology to the apex court.

Subsequently, the BJP hijacked the catchphrase, and lakhs of the party's social media warriors played an important role in this.

On 16 March, Modi said in a tweet, “Your Chowkidar is standing firm & serving the nation. But, I am not alone. Everyone who is fighting corruption, dirt, social evils is a Chowkidar. Everyone working hard for the progress of India is a Chowkidar. Today, every Indian is saying-#MainBhiChowkidar”.

With this tweet, #MainBhiChowkidar became a Twitter tend. The slogan was endorsed and promoted by all the ministers in the Union Cabinet, MPs, ministers in BJP-ruled states, BJP MLAs and  BJP volunteers who started prefixing the word "chowkidar" to their name.

And on 23 May, after the BJP received a massive mandate and an absolute majority to form the government, the prefix "chowkidar" was removed from Modi’s handle. Before this could lead to any speculation, Modi tweeted: "The people of India became chowkidars and rendered a great service to the nation. Chowkidar has become a powerful symbol to safeguard India from the evils of casteism, communalism, corruption and cronyism. Now, the time has come to take the chowkidar spirit to the next level. Keep this spirit alive at every moment and continue working for India’s progress. The word ‘chowkidar’ goes from my Twitter name but it remains an integral part of me. Urging you all to do the same too!"

Several other slogans of the BJP also made a major impact. Consider some such examples:

"Modi hai toh mumkin hai (When there is Modi, it is possible)": This slogan was launched in the wake of the Balakot strike. Earlier, the Opposition had attacked Modi over the Pulwama attack. After the Balakot strike, the catchphrase was popularised through videos on social media.

INS Viraat as a “personal taxi”: At a rally in Delhi on 8 May, Modi alleged that former prime minister Rajiv Gandhi used the now decommissioned naval warship INS Viraat as a “personal taxi” during a 10-day trip to Bangaram Island in Lakshadweep. This was in response to Rahul Gandhi's remark that the Indian Army is not the personal property of Modi.

"Bhrashtachari number 1": Addressing an election rally in Uttar Pradesh on 4 May, Modi had hit out at Rahul Gandhi, saying, "Your father was termed 'Mr Clean' by his courtiers, but his life ended as 'bhrashtachari number 1.' This was in response to the Congress' allegations of corruption against the prime minister.

'Dictionary of love': Rahul Gandhi, in an interview, had said, “Narendra Modi used hatred and I used love. And I think love will triumph.” Responding to this, Modi said at a rally, "See what kind of dictionary of love they have; what kind of words are there in their dictionary of love, and how they shower love on their opponents," he said. He then went on to narrate the abusive names that he was called by senior Congress leaders: “Gandi naali ka keeda, gangu teli, pagal kutta, bhasmasur, bandar, virus, Dawood Ibrahim, Hitler, Gaddafi, Mussolini, Tuglaq, Natwarlal, badtameez nalayak beta, rabies bimari se peerit bandar, chooha, lahu purush, asatya ka saudagar, Ravan, saanp, bichhu, ganda admi, jahar bone wala, maut ka saudagar, most stupid prime minister, neech aadmi, person whose father’s identity was unknown, nikamma, anpadh, ganwar...They even abused my mother by asking who my father was”.

Bengal ki mitti ka laddoo (Laddoos made of Bengal's soil): In yet another example of turning an attack to an advantage, Modi, while addressing a rally in Kolkata, said that it will be an honour for him to eat laddoos made of the soil of Bengal — which gave the world great personalities like Swami Vivekananda, Ramakrishna Paramhansa, JC Bose and Subhas Chandra Bose. This was in response to West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee’s statement that she will serve Modi with laddoos made of mud, filled with pebbles.

Many other statements by Opposition leaders also ended up helping the BJP as people found them to be in bad taste. Examples of these were Rahul Gandhi's remarks that he would "send Modi to jail after the elections," and Tejashwi Yadav's description of the prime minister as a 'fake backward caste leader.'

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Updated Date: May 26, 2019 11:15:12 IST