Inside Track: In-house talenthttps://indianexpress.com/article/opinion/columns/narendra-modi-main-bhi-chowkidar-lok-sabha-elections-rahul-gandhi-5639875/

Inside Track: In-house talent

The PM pulled a rabbit out of the hat by turning around Rahul Gandhi’s accusation “Chowkidar Chor Hai’’ to his advantage with the campaign “Main bhi Chowkidar Hoon”.

PM Modi added prefix Chowkidar’to his Twitter profile.

The BJP hired at great expense the top advertising names in the country for its 2019 publicity campaign. Yet, some of the best ideas have emanated from Narendra Modi himself, who has a natural talent for self-publicity. The original slogan coined by the professional ad-men for the 2019 campaign was Namumkin Ab Mumkin Hai, which was happily used as the catchline in government advertisements since there was no mention of the party or the Prime Minister. But when Modi addressed a rally in February, he turned the concept around to announce the more upfront slogan “Modi Hai to Mumkin Hai”. However, surveys with sample audiences suggested that even this slogan did not resonate with listeners and many did not understand the Urdu word “mumkin (possible)”. The PM pulled a rabbit out of the hat by turning around Rahul Gandhi’s accusation “Chowkidar Chor Hai’’ to his advantage with the campaign “Main bhi Chowkidar Hoon”, cleverly incorporating his supporters in his campaign. All Central ministers quickly fell in line and attached the prefix ‘Chowkidar’ to their Twitter IDs, as did other followers. The chowkidar campaign is reminiscent of 2014, when Mani Shankar Aiyer had dismissed Modi as a mere chaiwallah and Modi had cleverly turned around the elitist insult into a badge of honour.

Grudge match

Mayawati generally punches above her weight while dealing with male politicians, who are terrified of Behenji’s damage potential. But the feisty Priyanka Gandhi Vadra has no such inhibitions. Mayawati retaliated to Priyanka’s much-publicised appointment as general secretary for Eastern UP by announcing that the BSP would contest all seats from Madhya Pradesh, from where the Congress won recently. Behenji also sought to steal the thunder of the CWC meeting in Ahmedabad by categorically ruling out any tie-up in UP with the Congress, despite pressure from other non-BJP parties. Priyanka’s response was to call on Dalit leader Chandrashekhar Azad of the Bhim Army in hospital. Soon after that meeting, the Bhim Army declared that Azad would contest the Lok Sabha polls and take on Narendra Modi from Varanasi. Furious, Mayawati wanted to field BSP-SP candidates even in Rae Bareli and Amethi, and it was with difficulty that Akhilesh Yadav persuaded her not to. Shortly afterwards, Danish Ali, general secretary of the JD(S), the Congress’s ally in Karnataka, joined the BSP.

Priyanka followed up with a trip from Prayagraj to Varanasi, where the boatmen who greeted Priyanka along the route are lower-caste Nishads and Mallahs. The BSP read this as an attempt to divide the party’s vote bank. Mayawati snubbed the Congress yet again by making clear that the Congress was untouchable and she was not interested in its offer of support in seven UP seats. The fact that the photogenic Priyanka has a smart retort for every query and gets more TV coverage than most other politicians also rankles.

Snuffing out rivals

Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Kamal Nath has come up with a plan to keep his rivals busy and out of his way. He suggested that the Congress cash in on the popularity of its two most important state leaders, Jyotiraditya Scindia and Digvijaya Singh, to boost the party’s position in urban areas, where the BJP is stronger. He recommended that Scindia stand from Gwalior rather than his traditional Guna and Digvijaya from Bhopal instead of the family seat of Rajgarh. Digvijaya may have helped install Kamal Nath as CM, but the latter does not want the wily politician constantly interfering in state affairs.

No sniff of a scoop

For years, journalists on the Congress beat regularly visited the office of the friendly and accessible party spokesperson Tom Vadakkan, hoping to be tipped off on news breaks. The journalists are now furious that Vadakkan successfully hid the big scoop about himself. Vadakkan, who was a fixture in the Congress, having been recruited by Rajiv Gandhi in 1989, has joined the BJP. Vadakkan’s problem was that his loyalty was taken for granted. He remained in the same position while later arrivals leapfrogged over him. In 2009, when the bishop from his home town Thrissur suggested that Vadakkan was the ideal candidate for the Lok Sabha constituency which has a large Christian population, the high command said he could not be spared. When Randeep Surjewala was made media in-charge in 2015, Vadakkan’s office at 24, Akbar Road, was allotted to him. This year, a backbencher MP from Kerala, K C Venugopal, was appointed the party’s organising secretary since he happens to be Rahul Gandhi’s benchmate in Parliament. Vadakkan says he joined the BJP with no expectations, but the BJP will find him an asset in a state where nearly 20 per cent of the voters are Christian and the party has never won a parliamentary seat.