Modi’s #MainBhiChowkidar narrative

In 2014, as the Prime ministerial candidate of the BJP, he turned Mani Shankar Aiyer’s “Chaiwaala” jibe at him to his advantage by organising chai pe charcha all over the country and interpreting the taunt as an insult to his OBC status. Five years later, in response to the relentless “Chowkidar chor hai” campaign that Rahul has unleashed for the past many months, accusing the Prime minister of sleeping on the job, Modi has hit back with a new catchphrase.

In keeping with his penchant to trend in the virtual world, `#MainBhiChowkidar’ is Modi’s riposte to Rahul Gandhi. He has deftly positioned every conscientious Indian as a watchman, implying indirectly that when Gandhi calls the chowkidar a chor (thief), he is insulting every citizen of the country. Through Saturday, scores of Modi and BJP supporters changed their Twitter name to `Chowkidar xyz’. The following day, all BJP leaders led by Modi himself followed suit. On the microblogging site, India could have passed off for a security agency with a national footprint. In the short-term, the digital campaign was to lead on to a session with the PM on March 31.

In 2004, the Vajpayee-led BJP had unleashed the `India Shining’ campaign. It spoke in glowing terms about how India had progressed by leaps and bounds under the NDA regime, that everything was hunky-dory and Vajpayee had done well enough to deserve a second term. It flopped badly with the common man not in sync with the glitz that the BJP was peddling.

Wiser from the experience, Modi is marketing the `India Safe’ slogan. In 2014, he had promised to work as a chowkidar to guard people’s money and their trust once elected to the top office. Now releasing a video on social media, Modi says “Your chowkidar is standing firm and serving the nation”, in effect rubbishing the allegations leveled at him. Then nudging his supporters to do a MeToo, Modi christens every Indian who is fighting corruption, dirt and social evils as a Chowkidar. By making several claim #MainBhiChowkidar, Modi has attempted to dub doubts cast on his integrity as question marks on the honesty quotient of an entire nation. 

The subsequent reactions made it quite clear. Former Karnataka chief minister Siddaramaiah mocked the campaign saying “thief impersonating as Policeman is the greatest tragedy of our times. This disease is spreading to all the small thieves of our country who are trending MainBhiChowkidar”. 

The Karnataka unit of the BJP was quick to hit back, saying Siddaramaiah “calling citizens as chor for pledging support to @narendramodi shows the mental stability of loser”. 

Modi’s gameplan clearly is to take the Congress ploy of painting the PM as compromised, head-on. He is not willing to let Gandhi do a VP Singh on him. The tone and tenor of the video, the images, the faces – some of them with Modi masks and wearing `Namo again’ tee shirts – are all intended to convey the message that India is behind him. The image of Modi in an army tank in the video is to position him firmly as the commander whose integrity is unquestionable.

Five years ago, the Chaiwalla campaign had gusto and struck a chord. This time, aided by the video, it seems defensive.

On the digital space, the #MainBhiChowkidar trend provided its moments of mirth. One’s timeline showed up Modi’s `replies’ to all sorts of twitter handles including some crazy ones like @Modiledubega and @ambanikachela. To each one of them, the tweet from Modi’s handle went : “Your participation makes the #MainBhiChowkidar movement stronger. Here is my message for you”. 

But the one that took the cake was the reply to a parody account of Nirav Modi, who after getting a message from Modi’s handle, enquired if his debts could be waived off.

Bengaluru-based communications professional Karthik explained in a tweet, the problem is to do with these “automated messages” posted by a third-party client “as a reply to everyone who used the click-to-tweet option in Modi’s original tweet”.

By Sunday, the PM’s admirers had started trending #ChowkidarPhirSe, suggesting that renewing the contract for Modi for another five years is necessary for India. We will know on 23 May if it is part of India’s five-year plan.

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