NEW DELHI (Reuters) – For over a decade Arvind Singh has labored as a watchman in New Delhi, doing the rounds of the streets with a whistle and a picket stick to maintain vigil at night time.
Watchmen like him are so ubiquitous in India, guarding every little thing from workplaces to properties and shops to factories, that their presence goes virtually unnoticed. However over the previous week, the watchman has dominated India’s headlines.
That’s as a result of the most recent marketing campaign to be launched this week by Prime Minister Narendra Modi simply earlier than a normal election starting on April 11 is the “Major bhi chowkidar” or “I’m additionally a watchman” marketing campaign.
He tied an attraction to tens of thousands and thousands of typically poorly paid watchmen to the priorities of his personal job, following a suicide bomb assault that killed 40 paramilitary policemen within the northern area of Kashmir final month.
“We each work day and night time. You guard properties and I guard the nation,” Modi stated in an audio speech addressed to watchmen on Wednesday.
“The watchman has turn out to be an emblem of the nation’s nationalism,” he stated, equating everybody from lecturers and medical doctors to watchmen guarding the nation in their very own approach.
The marketing campaign got here in response to the opposition Congress social gathering’s slogan “chowkidar chor hai”, or the nation’s “watchman is a thief”, which it started utilizing late final yr to consult with Modi in reference to allegations of irregularities within the awarding of a protection contract. Modi has denied any wrongdoing.
In latest days, leaders and supporters of Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Celebration (BJP) have launched a coordinated effort to popularize his watchman marketing campaign, with many altering their social media names so as to add the prefix ‘chowkidar’.
However for a lot of watchmen, who’re among the many thousands and thousands in India’s huge casual financial system the place employees are sometimes poorly paid and barely protected by labor legal guidelines, Modi’s marketing campaign is a political gimmick that’s unlikely to enhance their lives.
“I don’t know why they began it,” stated Rakesh Yadav, a 37-year-old watchman from India’s most populous state of Uttar Pradesh.
“Within the final 4 years they’ve executed nothing for us,” he stated, trying up from a newspaper whereas on obligation outdoors a residential advanced in New Delhi.
“If PM was a chowkidar, would Nirav Modi run away?” stated one other watchman, Mohammed Nayyar, referring to a billionaire jeweler who fled to Britain final yr earlier than an alleged $2 billion mortgage fraud he’s accused of being concerned in got here to mild. The jeweler isn’t associated to the prime minister.
The cash-based financial system suffered a critical hit from the Modi authorities’s shock transfer to ban high-value forex notes in 2016.
‘DONE A LOT’
Singh remembers being unable to feed his youngsters for some days and standing in lengthy queues on the banks to trade the voided forex for brand new notes.
“What has modified in our lives? We’re doing the identical obligation we had been performing some years in the past,” he stated, including that his wage had not elevated from about $130 a month in three years.
The chowkidar marketing campaign is a definite reminder of Modi’s 2014 “chaiwallah” marketing campaign wherein he flaunted his previous working for his father as a chaiwallah, or tea vendor.
It could be a gimmick, however such issues have labored for Modi up to now, stated Priyavadan Patel, a veteran political scientist from Modi’s dwelling state of Gujarat and scholar on the Lokniti analysis program of Delhi’s Centre for the Examine of Creating Societies.
“The chaiwalla marketing campaign labored in an enormous approach,” Patel stated.
Such connections with the frequent man helped the BJP to realize an enormous parliamentary majority, the likes of which had not been seen in three many years in India, in 2014.
However that’s unlikely to be repeated this time.
Polls predict Modi would possibly win a second time period however with a a lot smaller majority, amid considerations a few lack of jobs progress and thousands and thousands of farmers dissatisfied over depressed crop costs.
A number of the most difficult battleground states for Modi’s social gathering are those who rely on the farm financial system. “The chowkidar marketing campaign might not work in such areas,” Patel stated.
A kind of states is Bihar, the place the watchman Singh migrated from 12 years in the past. He stated he wouldn’t return as a result of engaged on the farm again dwelling was not worthwhile.
But, he stated he believes in Modi, and praised him for air strikes on neighboring Pakistan in response to final month’s bomb assault.
“I really feel like Modi ji has executed rather a lot,” he stated, utilizing a suffix that denotes respect. “And I feel he’ll do much more within the coming years.”
Edited by Martin Howell, Robert Birsel