Narendra Modi launched the ‘Mai Bhi Chawkidar‘ campaign on March 16 by tweeting a video with #MaiBhiChowkidar. The video represents various ethnicities across India, barring Muslims – the second largest community in India.
Modi changed his Twitter name to ‘Chowkidar Narendra Modi’, following which a majority of BJP leaders prefixed ‘Chowkidar’ to their Twitter handles, too. The motive is made rather transparent by the prime minister himself, and that is to awaken the inner chowkidar in every Indian citizen. Chowkidar here refers to a self-acclaimed social position where one indulges in hard work with sincerity and civic sense.
However, the veil put up in the video arguably portrays a lack of general awareness, which may have come from video conceptualisers, editors, or the reviewers and publishers themselves.
The video tries to portray various communities across India in an ostensibly inclusive way. There are shots of people offering prayers in rivers, young people break-dancing in the streets and women dancing in festivals, among others. Oh, and of course, there features a dust-raising-chest-thumping soldier followed by morphed shots of airstrikes as the video trails towards the end.
The almost four-minute-long video does not, at least visually, offer even remote representation to people from the Muslim community. This goes against the very idea which the rest of the videos bravely carries forward – of showing people in their ethnic colours, firmly establishing the concept of inclusivity.
Neither does it manage to flesh out the participation of the Dalit sections of society, who are still ostracised in a large part of the Hindi-speaking belt – the primary vote bank of BJP.
Unfortunately, these are the two communities that have been actively vandalised and attacked by Hindutva groups in broad daylight, perhaps when the Chowkidars were taking a nap.
In the 2014 general election, no Muslim candidate was elected from any seat in Uttar Pradesh. The problem of such representation isn’t confined to just the BJP, but extends to other parties operating in the most populous state of India as well. The 2014 election had seen the BJP giving tickets to seven Muslim candidates in five states – Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Rajasthan, Mizoram and Telangana, reports Scroll.
This track record only tends to justify the BJP’s negligence towards the inclusivity of Muslims and other minorities in India.
The campaign video ends with the following statement: Every Indian concerned for their country has a chowkidar in them.
If imagery is to draw parallels with the message which the BJP intends to put forward, it becomes clear that the party does not recognise the second majority and several other minorities as a part of their chowkidar campaign. Another explanation could be that those who made the video merely forgot to diversify their script.
The video on YouTube alone has been watched more than half a million times. It is also being actively shared on Twitter and Facebook.
The fault could not have slipped. The inclusion could have easily come out, but the past treatment and (un)acknowledgement of minorities and other groups by the BJP has been enough to not advertise it on the front page of a pamphlet, or, in this case a video.
Towards the end, the video asks viewers to join the prime minister on March 31 for more on this campaign. While the video makes the request, it leaves behind a trail of misrepresentation of diversity which, otherwise, could have been acknowledged well. If the BJP had to become the voice of so many sections of society, it could have shown interest in a widely represented polity. It could’ve been more inclusive.
Besides, the lack of inclusivity comes at a time when adverts, more often than not, attempt to represent people from various communities – Blacks, Asians and minority ethnicities. This, again, is not an act of reinforcing stereotypes: It is an act of normalising representation in the eyes of people, who otherwise, due to regressive historical developments, may tend to see them as outsiders.
Yet, brands are still not starring minorities in leading roles. The habit is contagious, but it gets worse when the same is embodied in a political campaign in a country like India. The roots of the world’s largest democracy must sprout from inclusivity.
The campaign has received a significant bit of criticism, where opposition leaders blamed the prime minister of being reckless of his watch after the likes of Nirav Modi fled the country. Another criticism of the campaign is that the youth, deprived of job opportunities, are left with no choice but to become literal chowkidars.
The 2019 Lok Sabha elections are coming at a time when the internet – thanks to the cheap data prices – is accessible to millions of Indians. Cheaper data has made it feasible to reach out to the masses, especially to a large chunk of voters – about 45 million of them – who are voting for the first time. The internet has become cheaper, too, with data prices falling 93% in the last three years.
There has been a steep increase in the number of smartphone users as well. eMarketer, a market research company foresees that India will have more than 380 million smartphone users towards the end of the year – more than a quarter of the population. All of these factors combined could play a key role in the 2019 elections.
The campaign, undoubtedly, will expand. It will be interesting to see if the BJP makes an effort to reassure minorities that its next term will address their voices, their insecurities and anxieties, and bring out inclusiveness in India in the decade to come.
Featured image source: YouTube