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Achhe Din Is Not The Slogan Of Our Times. So What Is?

Priya Ramani says we need new slogans.

When we look back in India’s history, what will be the mantra that captured the zeitgeist of 2014-2019? I think by now most of us would agree that #AchheDin is unlikely to be a serious contender. Even Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) Minister Nitin Gadkari disowned this slogan, claiming it was invented by former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and there’s a popular Facebook page titled Achhe Din Memes.

Achhe Din will boomerang on Prime Minister Narendra Modi the way India Shining did on the Atal Bihari Vajpayee government, former president of the Indian National Congress (INC) Sonia Gandhi forecast recently. Of course, some people might think she stared too long into the crystal ball when she also said that the Congress will return to power in 2019, but in India, you never know.

A full decade before Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s resounding win on the back of the line Achhe din aane wale hain (the good days are coming)—it sounds almost menacing now—the BJP fought the 2004 election using India Shining, a marketing slogan coined by a hotshot Mumbai advertising professional who told news website Rediff that he was inspired by tourism slogans such as ‘Rule Britannia’ or ‘Come, Play in South Africa’.

It angered the country’s less privileged voters who opted instead for the less jingoistic Congress ka Haat, Aam Aadmi ke Saath and boom, the BJP was routed in the election. Later, senior leader LK Advani confessed that the slogan might not have been “appropriate”. “In retrospect, it seems that the fruits of development did not equitably reach all sections of our society,” Advani said.

I guess any slogan that tries to summarise how Indians are feeling at a given point in time is bound to fail in a nation that is so diverse that nobody can agree on anything. Can we even get consensus on what tree best represents India? Good luck to any political party that tries to tell us that we are all happy, shiny people—and that their party is responsible for our elevated mood.

Indira Gandhi’s Garibi Hatao hit its mark precisely because it indicated that the government was ready to do some work towards a specific goal that would benefit a large number of citizens, rather than indulge in pointless self-praise.

The Modi government did emphasise action when it came up with the slogan Swachh Bharat, but unfortunately, this noble initiative to convince Indians to avoid open defecation and go indoors instead has mostly been reduced to construction activity.

The government is yet to crack key problems such as how to convince Indians to actually use these new toilets and how to ensure toilet construction goes alongside setting up proper sewage systems. Experts estimate that a large chunk of the 60 million toilets constructed so far is being used as godowns to store grains or wash clothes. It’s clear we are still going to be using the outdoor toilet that is our country in October 2019, the government’s deadline to end open defecation.

The less said about other slogans such as Make in India and Startup India, the better. That leaves us with Bharat Mata Ki Jai, a decent enough cry that used to invoke the smell of Indian mitti and Manoj Kumar movies until the Sangh Parivaar demanded we utilise it repeatedly to prove our patriotism. Thank you, sirs, for making this slogan—like everything else you touch—into a battle between our Hindu and Muslim citizens. The RSS’s Mohan Bhagwat declared, “Now the time has come when we have to tell the new generation to chant ‘Bharat Mata Ki Jai’. It should be real, spontaneous and part of the all-round development of the youth.”

Outrageous statements around what became a “national debate” included Baba Ramdev threatening to behead those who wouldn’t say Bharat Mata Ki Jai and Maharashtra Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis saying those who don’t chant Bharat Mata Ki Jai don’t deserve to stay in India.

As writers analysed the intricacies of using Bharat Mata Ki Jai vs Jai Hind, the internet decided it had had enough and began its own mocking BMKJ meme factory. The slogan was reduced to an acronym, and director Anurag Kashyap opted to subvert this pathetic definition of patriotism in the climax of his latest film Mukkabaaz. In New India, BMKJ now stands more for dissent than love for country.

If it were up to me, I would say the slogan for our time should be Ae Mohabbat Zindabad (long live love). Shakeel Badayuni wrote the lyrics for this powerful song in Mughal-e-Azam (1960), but it seems most relevant at a time when the state is hell-bent on determining who we should love. Love is the best way to counter all the hate we battle in 2018, I believe. But I’m only a voter from south Mumbai, India’s sleepiest electoral constituency. Real power has always rested with our farmers. And recently, they picked their slogan of choice.

Nearly 90 years after it was first used politically, 25,000 of our farmers waved red flags and marched to Mumbai shouting Inquilab Zindabad. Coined by Maulana Hasrat Mohani in the 1920s, the slogan became famous when on April 8, 1929, Bhagat Singh and freedom fighter Batukeshwar Dutt hurled bombs in the Central Legislative Assembly in New Delhi. Singh signed off with ‘Inquilab Zindabad!’

It’s a grassroots slogan that has stood the test of time. One that might just emerge the winner for this moment in India’s history.

 

Priya Ramani is a Bangalore-based reporter and columnist. She tweets at @priyaramani.

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