The chaiwalla gets sympathy but not a lathi-wielding chowkidar - By Sagarika Ghose - IAMC
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The chaiwalla gets sympathy but not a lathi-wielding chowkidar – By Sagarika Ghose

There’s little doubt about the event marketing and buzz-creating skills of Team Modi. In 2014, after the dismissive chaiwalla sneer by Congress leader Mani Shankar Aiyar, the BJP immediately seized the opportunity to create an all-out chaiwalla campaign, complete with chai pe charcha streetcorner meetings, contrasting Narendra Modi’s subaltern up-by-my-bootstraps Great Indian Story with the inherited privileges of the dynastical Congress.

Today as a replacement to the chaiwalla, the chowkidar campaign has been mounted. But this time the ‘Main Bhi Chowkidar’ cry sounds like a forced defensive reaction prompted by Congress president Rahul Gandhi’s repeated accusations of “Chowkidar Chor Hai”.… But while the chaiwalla campaign resonated widely, premised as it was on social and economic deprivation and the Congress’s perceived class snobbery, the chowkidar campaign is more gimmicky rather than genuinely significant.

There can be no possible argument against an underprivileged chaiwalla, but the lathi-wielding chowkidar evokes images of authoritarian vigilantism. Chaiwalla is a victim and an underdog, an all-powerful chowkidar is not. Besides, a chowkidar is open to being questioned. Where is the chowkidar government, for example, when some defaulting tycoons evade the law, or when ruling party legislators beat each other up, or when lynch mobs attack cattle traders, or when a BJP MLA is accused of rape, or when the BJP’s Operation Lotus works to engineer defections in Gujarat or attempts to weaken an elected government in Karnataka by fair means or foul, or when electoral bonds are floated in which donors to parties remain publicly anonymous?…