Lok Sabha elections 2019: Chowkidar to Rafale, Congress’s graft pitch failed
“Chowkidar chor hai” (the watchman is a thief) was Congress president Rahul Gandhi’s rallying cry against Prime Minister Narendra Modi. In every rally, every press conference, he kept repeating it to remind voters of his allegation that Modi’s National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government had signed a Rafale jets purchase deal with France at a higher cost (than the previous Congress-led UPA had almost finalised) in order to benefit Anil Ambani’s Reliance company. The Congress stuck to this corruption issue despite the Comptroller and the Auditor General finding nothing untoward in the deal and even at the risk of angering the Supreme Court, which demanded an apology from Rahul Gandhi after he attributed the slogan to it.
Interestingly, Gandhi’s continued use of the slogan prompted the Prime Minister to make it the prefix of his Twitter ID, encouraging his council of ministers and other BJP followers to emulate him. The slogan itself was prompted by Modi’s claim ahead of the 2014 elections that he was a watchman who would not allow any corruption on his watch.
But from the results of the 2019 elections, it is evident that corruption as an issue didn’t fly, especially when it came to Rafale.
“Nobody ever believed Rahul Gandhi’s chor (thief) slogan. I suspect that even he didn’t believe it. The opposition ran a negative campaign which only focussed on one thing – stop Modi at all cost. Whereas Modi had a track record to show. Simply, people believe and trust Modi and have demonstrated this at the ballot box,’’ said Manoj Ladwa, a communications strategist who works with Modi.
Ladwa’s claim was borne out in HT’s field reports. The Prime Minister’s personal popularity and integrity overrode all allegations of corruption. And the details of the Rafale deal were too technical to catch the imagination of voters. As a result, the attack didn’t work. However, the Congress isn’t ready to admit its error in making corruption Gandhi’s number one attack strategy.
“Rafale has always been an issue and it will continue to be one. We are definitely not going to give up on that in the near future,’’ said senior Congress leader, Rajiv Shukla.
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The Bharatiya Janata Party, which rode to power in 2014 on a development and anti-corruption platform – the previous Congress-led government was plagued by corruption scandals including the so-called 2G scam and another concerning irregularities in the allotment of coal mines – also used corruption as an issue to attack the opposition. It reminded voters how all opposition parties were united by a common theme – they had all faced sundry corruption cases. Most opposition leaders sought to pass off such charges as politically motivated.
Prime Minister Modi even attacked former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi (Gandhi’s father) who was embroiled in the Bofors corruption scandal. “Your father was termed Mr. Clean by his courtiers, but his life ended as bhrashtachari (corrupt) no. 1,” he said, provoking outrage from various quarters for attacking someone who was killed in a suicide bombing attack by a terrorist.
On Thursday, just as Gandhi accepted defeat and congratulated Narendra Modi,the Prime Minister removed “chowkidar” from his Twitter handle, as did others in his party.
“The time has come to take the Chowkidar Spirit to the next level. Keep this spirit alive at every moment and continue working for India’s progress. The word ‘Chowkidar’ goes from my Twitter name but it remains an integral part of me. Urging you all to do the same too!,” tweeted the Prime Minister.