Slogans and elections: The everlasting bond

Aditi Sengupta | Updated on April 12, 2019

A hero’s welcome: A YSR Congress Party supporter flashes a T-shirt that reads Ravali Jagan, Kavali Jagan. A video of the party’s campaign song has crossed 20 million views on YouTube   -  THE HINDU/ KV POORNACHANDRA KUMAR

The writing on the wall often decides the fate of candidates

Maa (mother), maati (motherland or the soil of your country), manush (people) — these words tumbled out of Mamata Banerjee’s mouth in exactly this order one day in 2009.

Bengal, along with the rest of the country, was preparing for the 15th Lok Sabha elections. The Left Front government had earned public ire for its high-handedness in tackling unrest in Nandigram, a town in Purba Medinipur district, over the setting up of a special economic zone. To make matters worse, Tata Motors had pulled out of a project to establish a car-manufacturing unit in Singur, a town in Hooghly district.

It appeared that the Left had lost its connection with the grassroots in Bengal, and Banerjee, founder of the Trinamool Congress (TMC) and the current chief minister, used this very gap to build her campaign against her political rivals in the polls. The slogan — Maa, Maati, Manush — worked wonders for the party that has the ghaasphool (a wild flower that grows in the grass) for a symbol. The TMC bagged 19 seats in the Lok Sabha that year, followed by a landslide victory in the 2011 state polls.

Across the country, slogans are in the air — and on the walls, too, despite bans — to mark the 17th Lok Sabha elections. Sometimes they are part of a song, and often a refrain in rallies. “Ei BJP aar na (No more of the BJP)” is a common refrain at the end of emotive slogans (voiced both by the TMC and Left) at political rallies in West Bengal this season.

The best slogans are those that are easy to recall. Simplicity, clearly, is at work behind the success of YSR Congress Party’s (YSRCP) ongoing campaigns against N Chandrababu Naidu and the Telugu Desam Party (TDP) in Andhra Pradesh. The opposition party’s three-word slogan “Bye-Bye Babu” says it all.

“We all know which Babu we are talking about and the message is that we don’t want to see him again. Here, we have taken the simplest English word [goodbye] to convey a very strong, local sentiment,” says Rishi Raj Singh, founder-member of the Indian Political Action Committee (IPAC), a policy outfit that has designed campaigns for several leading political parties since 2014.

IPAC’s slogan for Jaganmohan Reddy — Ravali Jagan, Kavali Jagan (Jagan is coming; we need Jagan) — encapsulates the popularity the leader has earned, Singh holds. “Here, too, we wanted to keep everything simple; words and visuals that connect with the common people. Our brief is to be at the roots,” he tells BLink.

In a surprise development, a slogan in Hindi seems to be faring well in Kerala. Written for CPI(M) candidate Veena George, contesting from the Pathanamthitta constituency, it says Dil mein Veena, Dilli mein Veena (Veena in our hearts, Veena in Delhi).

In Bihar, Rashtriya Janata Dal launched its campaign slogan in Bhojpuri — Kare ke baa, lade ke baa, jeete ke baa (we have to do, we have to fight, we have to win) — about a week before the first phase of polling. It is also a song, the video of which focuses primarily on Lalu Prasad Yadav and his second son, Tejashwi.

The Congress’s official slogan (and campaign song) for the 2019 polls — Ab Hoga Nyay — was released only five days before the first phase of polls on April 11. Written by poet-lyricist Javed Akhtar, the song’s video has been created by film-maker Nikkhil Advani (of Kal Ho Naa Ho fame). Demonetisation, agrarian distress, inflation and the tendency to rename cities are some of the issues that the video captures. In terms of views (under 9 lakh) or catchiness, though, it is way behind the kind of response that Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Main Bhi Chowkidar campaign has generated.

The slogans, analysts stress, have to drive home a message. In the last Lok Sabha election, ‘Abki bar, Modi Sarkar’, was pithy – and effective. Over the years, slogans have voiced the mood of the people — specific to the times. After the Emergency, for instance, a popular slogan highlighted the defeat of Indira Gandhi, while drawing in her unpopular son. ‘Haar gayi, bhai, haar gai, Sanjay ki mummy haar gayi (she’s lost, she’s lost, Sanjay’s mum has lost).

The Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) came riding on a two-liner that attacked the castes that it saw as the opponents of the party which largely comprised Dalits. Tilak, taraju aur talwar, inko maaro jutey char — hit the upper castes with shoes, it said, referring to Brahmins as tilak (a bindi on the forehead), the trader class as taraju or scales, and the Rajputs as talwar, or sword.

A slogan is sometimes more effective than a speech. And that is why Banerjee is in no mood to let go of Maa, Maati, Manush even in the 2019 polls, though the party’s attention has shifted from decimating the Left in Bengal to focusing on threats posed by the BJP. “Desh bachate BJP hatao, gaachh lagiye paribesh bachao (Save the country by removing BJP, save the environment by planting trees),” TMC supporters in Uttar Dinajpur district have been chanting for the April 18 vote.

“Banerjee’s slogans are always direct. She doesn’t overanalyse them, she doesn’t intellectualise them. What works for her is the simplicity of the words. It’s easy for the layperson to understand the meaning of such slogans,” says Dola Mitra, Kolkata-based journalist and author of Decoding Didi: Making Sense of Mamata Banerjee.

For the unsung poets of Indian elections — the ones who sit in crowded party offices and churn out catchphrases and lyrics — anti-incumbency is always potent fodder for creativity. Last heard, party workers leading a Left rally in Kolkata were chanting “Achhe din er dhop er chop; notebandi super flop; ei BJP ar na, ar na, ar na (Achhe din was a hoax; demonetisation was a flop show; no more of this BJP, no more, no more).

Published on April 12, 2019

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