Long before Twitter taught India the power of 140 characters, netas mastered the art of thinking in less than 140 characters. The 16th Lok Sabha election campaign is churning out new slogans and catchphrases. It seems that the Congress and the BJP are neck and neck in the battle to allure voters with catchy phrases.
In August, BJP’s prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi unwrapped the saffron party’s new slogan, Nayi soch, nayi ummeed (new thinking, new hope) in Hyderanad. He gave a clarion call to the electorate to rid the country of the Congress (Congress mukht Bharat). Unveiling his vision of the government, he said its only religion should be 'India first', its mantra should be the Constitution, its belief should be 'Bharat Bhakti', its power should be people's power and its worship should be the welfare of 125 crore people.
The rallying cry of Congress this time is: Poori roti khayenge, 100 din kaam karenge, dawaiee lenge aur Congress ko jitayenge (eat full roti, work for 100 days, receive free medicines and vote for Congress).
Almost a year before the Lok Sabha polls in 2004, Congress president Sonia Gandhi took a leaf out of Indira Gandhi's book and gave the Grand Old Party a leftward tilt.
She recast her mother-in-law's populist 'Garibi hatao' war-cry with the slogan of Congress ka haath, garib ke saath -- which was supplanted by the more expansive Aam aadmi ke saath for the 2004 Lok Sabha polls.
In India, political catchphrases regularly provide the passion, interest and zeal needed to engross observers and voters alike. This has ensured that the history of Indian politics is peppered with such memorable slogans as garibi hatao (eradicate poverty) India Shining and Jai Jawan, Jai Kisan (hail the soldier, hail the farmer).
A good slogan can bring together people usually separated by caste, religion, region, and language. Former Prime Minister Gandhi's garibi hatao campaign in 1971 resonated with the nation and secured a landslide victory for her Congress party.
Many opposition parties united to form the Janata Morcha (People's Front) which campaigned under slogans such as Indira hatao, desh bachao (Remove Indira, Save the Nation) and Sampoorna Kranti (Total Revolution). The bloc swept to victory in the 1977 election.
However, if there were an award for the worst strategic blunder in Indian elections, the BJP’s India Shining campaign of 2004 would surely qualify for it. The Congress punctured the BJP’s much-hyped campaign with a rhetorical question: Aam aadmi ko kya mila (what did the common man get?).
In 1996, the BJP came to power on the back of several well-known slogans relating to Atal Bihari Vajpayee, whose corruption-free image made him an ideal face for the party. Sabko Dekha Bari Bari, Abki Bari Atal Bihari (we have seen several others, but now it's Atal Bihari's turn) was the catchphrase among BJP supporters.
Trinammol Congress supremo Mamata Banerjee ran a successful poll campaign with Maa, maati, manush (Mother, motherland and people) in 2011 and came to power in West Bengal.
The BSP’s journey from a Dalit-only party to one that actively wooed Brahmins is marked by its slogans. From the antagonistic Tilak, taraju aur talawar, inko maro joote char (It called upon the Dalits and backwards to shoe the brahmins, the banias and the thakurs) to inclusive canvassing such as Hathi nahi Ganesh hain, Brahma, Vishnu, Mahesh hain (It is not just an elephant, it is Lord Ganesha, It is Lord Brahma, Lord Vishnu and Lord Mahesh), the BSP has travelled quite a distance.
RJD boss Lalu Prasad was adept at providing one-liners, couplets and rustic humour that kept his audience in splits. Jab tak rahega samose mein aloo, tab tak rahega Bihar mein Lalu. The flowing rhetoric kept him in power till the infamous fodder scam caught up with him.
There was a time when Dalits would raise the slogan, Upar aasmaan, neeche Paswan (you can rely on the sky above and on Ram Vilas Paswan on the earth below).
At the national level, the story was no different with two main national parties (Congress and BJP) tried their best to make a mark on the minds of the electorate in 2009. One party said: Aam aadmi ke badhte kadam/ Har kadam par Bharat buland. The other went: Har haath ko kaam / Har haath ko paani and Strong BJP, Strong India.
However, elections are not only about hectic political sloganeering. Parties don't miss a chance of taking swipes at each other as well. Will all the new and innovative slogans be the game changer for parties or will it be a case of full of sound and fury, signifying nothing?