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What was wrong with Rahul Gandhi's Chowkidar chor hai campaign?

Mani Shankar Aiyar, Rahul Gandhi
A few days back, I came across an interesting Facebook post by Vinod Chand, an FB friend. I always read his comments with great interest. This one was on Rahul Gandhi launching what he called “a broadside on Narendra Modi” during the initial phase of the campaign during the last Lok Sabha polls -- “Chowkidar chor hai.” However, during the later phase of the campaign the slogan appeared to have been dropped, not because it seemed derogatory, but perhaps because it was not having the “desired impact.”
Be that as it may, supporting Rahul’s “Chowkidar chor hai” campaign, Chand said, “His Congress colleagues watched from the sidelines, not many joining in, not many chipping in.” He added, “They thought, if this clicks, we will form a government, if it does not, then this fool will get all the blame. It did not click. And Rahul Gandhi realized that his 'friends' and 'colleagues' were just leeches, hangers on, those who wanted to benefit from the legacy of a Gandhi surname. So, he rightly called them out and quit.”
Chand asserted, these “leeches” became desperate, wanting the status quo (Rahul as Congress president) to be maintained, as “they wanted to keep hanging on.” He added, yet Rahul to quit, and rightly so. “Let the leeches realize that they can't be on the winning side if they don't step up to the plate and contribute. They will have to be vocal, actually maybe more vocal then their leader”, he commented.
On reading this FB post, I recalled a conversation I had on a wayside tea stall with Pravin Mishra, a bright young writer, artist and educator, whom I have known for about five or six years. What Mishra told me was news to me, though I was told later it was already in public domain: That it was he who gave the slogan “Chowkidar chor hai” to Rahul. Mishra said, it was a “great success” during the assembly polls in Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Karnataka, held last year, bringing Congress to power. “I fail to understand why they dropped it after a while during the Lok Sabha polls”, Mishra wondered.
I replied, there was some truth in what he was saying. A Lokniti-CSDS opinion poll during the Lok Sabha elections suggested that the Congress slogan was pretty popular among the electorate, and it placed the party on a stronger position vis-a-vis BJP. But, the opinion poll showed, things changed after the Pulwama terror attack: The slogan wasn’t working. Worse, if the opinion poll is to be believed, about 9% Hindus shifted to BJP post-Pulwama attack on February 14, 2019.
Pravin Mishra
So, was “Chowkidar chor hai” -- the guard is the thief – a good slogan? Maybe it went well with the allegations of corruption in the Rafale deal, in which India is to be supplied modern fighter planes. Wasn’t Modi an “architect” of the revised Rafale deal, originally planned by the pre-2014 Congress rulers at a much lower price? There was, one might say, nothing wrong in calling Modi a thief. His regime had allowed several of the top bank defaulters to run away from the country – from Vijay Malya to Neerav Modi. Wasn’t Modi in know of how all this happened?
But on a second thought, I wonder, wasn’t Rahul contradicting his own approach, of trying to show himself as a person showing unprecedented humility during the Gujarat assembly elections of December 2017? At that time, if I remember correctly, he had advised Congress leaders not to show disrespect to the Prime Minister of India but fight on the basis of ideology. He said, Modi was India’s Prime Minister, and he had to be respected as such; only his politics should be criticized. When the inevitable Mani Shankar Aiyar bad-mouthed Modi during the Gujarat polls, Rahul publicly castigated him.
The results of the Gujarat polls showed, under Rahul’s leadership, the saffron bastion losing huge grounds to the Congress, and I think, a major reason for this was Rahul showing outstanding humility, something that impressed the saffronised Hindu middle classes of Ahmedabad, among whom I live, as well. In fact, in the run up to the Gujarat polls, during several interactions, Rahul insisted, he wanted to fight Modi with his policy of love as he was against Modi’s ideology, which promoted hate. But he was not against Modi the person.
After all, this is the path that Mahatma Gandhi had shown, he said. I wondered as to how could so much sense started coming into a person who was till yesterday made joke of as a pappu. I tried to argue with myself: Perhaps he has been trained that way. He has some good advisor, but don’t know who. For, there was little to show he would learn this the way Mahatma did: By directly interacting with the most vulnerable sections of society and taking up their cause.
During the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, Modi, and especially his right-hand Amit Shah, are known to have used what to many seemed were highly derogatory words on Rahul and all that he stood for, including the legacy of which he is the part. Nothing new: Modi had called Sonia Gandhi a Jersey cow way back in December 2002 Gujarat elections, and said. Modi even justified BJP fielding a terror accused, who praised Godse, the man who murdered the Mahatma.
Given this framework, wasn't Rahul, through his “Chowkidar chor hai” campaign, somewhat imitating Modi-Shah's "derogatory" remarks on Congress and its legacy? Didn't that promote politics of hate, instead of what he had earlier sought: fight hate with love?
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This blog has also appeared in Counterview

Comments

Pravin Mishra said…
Nice 👍
BJP was troubled with ChowkidarChorHai slogan going viral and people taking ownership of it. Then they decided to take it head on with MainBhiChowkidar campaign. That was precisely the moment when the Congress had an opportunity to take Chowkidar campaign to the next level with BJP making national security their central plank embedding Pulwama and Balakot in their narrative. The much desired shift from the "Chowkidar of the rich" to "Chowkidar who slept when the terrorists attacked our forces" did not take place.
The success of any campaign depends on how it adapts to the changing discourse and realities. The real issues of the people suddenly became non-issues before national security. A little correction at that moment would have given Congress very heavy dividends.
https://m.economictimes.com/news/elections/lok-sabha/india/chowkidar-beats-chor-hai-modi-uses-insults-to-his-advantage/articleshow/69474044.cms

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