A slew of BJP personalities have prefixed “chowkidar” to their Twitter identities. This move follows the launch of a social media campaign by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, “Main bhi chowkidar (I, too, am a watchman)”. This, in turn, appears to be a response to Congress president Rahul Gandhi’s anti-corruption campaign in which, referring to the PM, he said, “Chowkidar chor hai (the watchman is a thief)”.
Chowkidars are the modern-era guardians of our individual galaxies, tirelessly and invisibly ensuring our well-being, always in the background. But while trying to appropriate any identity you tend to not remain in character sometimes. A bit like trying to imitate Charlie Chaplin when you have forgotten to shave off the Salvador Dali-moustache from last summer. So, if one suddenly assumes the identity of chowkidar, it might leave scope for questions — such as when former J&K Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti said in a tweet: “Vijay Mallya, Mehul Choski, Nirav Modi all fled under this chowkidar’s watch”.
All this political jousting is bound to perpetuate negative stereotypes of a group already enduring hard livelihoods. The actual chowkidars, mostly migrants, don’t have it easy. A recent report on blue collar jobs for 2019 revealed that there are 2.5 lakh security guards in Bengaluru: 60 per cent are from Odisha, 30 per cent from Tripura and Bengal, and the rest from Jharkhand and other regions — essentially, a community of displaced people trying to eke out a livelihood with little stability.
The same report says that jobs such as those of security guards see high attrition rates ranging between 40 and 300 per cent, with people switching for a few hundred rupees. Those in power can afford to use-abuse the chowkidar metaphor. But the social media game of one-upmanship may or may not shine the light on those stuck with the chowkidar tag as a lived reality.