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Charandas Chor and Narendra Damodardas Chowkidar

Modi and the BJP in their collective wisdom have chosen the day before April 1 for a mega 'Main Bhi Chowkidar' event

  • Published 31.03.19, 8:46 AM
  • Updated 31.03.19, 8:46 AM
  • 2 mins read
Narendra Modi at a rally to launch a Kalashnikov rifle manufacturing facility in Amethi on March 3 PTI photo

Charandas Chor is a feeling thief, who one day took a vow too many and therein did himself in. Habib Tanvir wrote the play more than 40 years ago. Today the chowkidar is our protagonist. Narendra Damodardas Modi is the Chowkidar-in-chief, full of frenetic poll feeling and quick on the vows. Now, the chowkidar figure is associated with many a thing, of which the shrill whistle and loud call stand out — reassuring citizens and warning thieves, the likes of Charandas perhaps. Narendra Damodardas tweets. On March 16, he let it be known to all of India — Main Bhi Chowkidar.

I will never…

Charandas Chor is not ashamed of thieving. That is why when his guru asks him to give up doing what he does, he offers to make other pledges instead — I will never lead a procession on elephant back, I will never eat off a golden plate, I will never marry a princess, I will never agree to be the king of a people. And I will never tell a lie. Promises, outlandish promises Charandas makes. Last elections, Narendra Damodardas said he was not ashamed of having been a chaiwallah once. Now, he is proud to be a chowkidar. He has let it be known: “Your Chowkidar is standing firm & serving the nation. But, I am not alone. Everyone who is fighting corruption, dirt, social evils is a Chowkidar...”

Caller tune

Tanvir’s Charandas Chor sings, “There are so many rogues about, who do not look like thieves/Impressive turbans on their heads, softly shod their feet…” No sooner did Narendra Damodardas make his exhortation, than he yoked his Twitter profile with the prefix ‘chowkidar’. BJP president Amit Shah, home minister Rajnath Singh, minister of external affairs Sushma Swaraj, all followed suit. Other citizens on the social media platform, who responded to the Chowkidar-in-chief’s call and pledged allegiance, were rewarded with automated replies from the Prime Minister’s account. The next thing one knew, there was chowkidar merchandise and tattoos and tea cups served on trains. The BJP launched a new caller tune, the one with the insistent voice singing: Woh ek akela chal pada, main uski hi qatar hun/ Haan main bhi chowkidar huuuuuoooouuuuooon.

A scene from Habib Tanvir's play 'Charandas Chor', performed by Naya Theatre at Rabindra Sadan, Calcutta, 2005
A scene from Habib Tanvir's play 'Charandas Chor', performed by Naya Theatre at Rabindra Sadan, Calcutta, 2005 Picture by Sanjoy Chattopadhyay

A thief. A chowkidar. And many fools

Charandas Chor was put to death by the queen, because letting him live meant allowing the truth to come out. (She had wanted to marry him and he had refused.) Charandas had vowed never to lie, after all. Pledge shedge. Tanvir’s play ends with a song: Ek chor ne rang jamaya jee, sach bolke. Narendra Damodardas and his party, in their collective wisdom, have set aside today, March 31, 2019, a day before April 1 — the appointed day for tomfoolery — for the mega Main Bhi Chowkidar event. Chowkidar-in-chief will interact with citizen chowkidars across 500 locations via video conference. Senior BJP leader Ravi Shankar Prasad has already declared it a “people's movement”. Qualifier? Hashtag tweeted 20 lakh times, 1,600 crore impressions as of March 19. The refrain that punctuates Tanvir’s play goes — “Charandas is not a thief, not a thief, no way.” And Narendra Damodardas has not proven to be a chowkidar, no way. But April 1 or not, we are being made a fool of all right. All fools, all the way.