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A quirky campaign

Bhojpuri songs are wooing women voters in Bihar and Eastern Uttar Pradesh

A little more than two years ago, in a prelude to a playful number, Bhojpuri popstar Anu Dubey teased the ubiquitous bhauji (sister-in-law) for supporting Narendra Modi in the 2014 Lok Sabha polls. Dubey didn’t make it clear whether the otherwise apolitical song was endorsing Prime Minister’s demonetisation move or taking potshots at Bhauji’s troubles. Dubey taunts the Bhauji: “Kud kud Modi ke dele rahii vote, bhauji ke sause dharayal kaala note.” (She had voted for Modi with much excitement, but now sister-in-law’s black money got caught.)

Cut to 2019. The Bhauji is now being cajoled back with Bhojpuri numbers by not only Prime Minister Modi’s party, but by the Opposition too as Lok Sabha poll campaign gains momentum in the Bhojpuri-speaking belt of Bihar and East Uttar Pradesh.

Early this week, Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) released its official poll slogan in Bhojpuri, to be developed in a song.

Interestingly, it is the women voters who are finding themselves at the centre of musical canvassing in an industry which, besides churning out overtly political numbers, tends to slip in political messages even in its routine compositions.

Recent years have witnessed a high demand for poll campaign songs in the Bhojpuri pop music industry, which is known for its instant musical statements on current developments. What, however, is new is the targeting of women voters in the lyrical appeal of poll songs. One may guess that poll campaigns are factoring in the significant rise in women turnout, especially rural women. Recent studies show the remarkable rise in women turnout in Assembly as well as Lok Sabha polls. Hindi heartland states have much distance to cover to catch up with that upsurge, but it’s important to note that among big states in India, Bihar witnessed the highest turnout of women voters in 2014 Lok Sabha polls, 3 % higher than the male turnout.

Perhaps campaign managers are showing more awareness of the implications of this rise, more so when the turnout is qualitative since many women are now believed to be voting independent of the guidance of male members of the family. The effort to reach out to different generations of women voters can be seen in campaign songs composed in Bhojpuri, one of the five major dialects spoken in Bihar and some districts of eastern Uttar Pradesh.

A case in point is how Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) continues to use this 2015 campaign number for 2019 electioneering, even as the composition of the alliance has changed significantly since. Sung by leading Bhojpuri pop singer and actor Pawan Singh, the number pleads three generations of women voters for support. Eyeing different age groups of women voters, the song is addressed to Chachi (aunt), Dadi (grandmother) and Bhauji (sister-in-law, specifically brother’s wife).

While Pawan seeks support of Chachi with reverential submission saying, “Maangi la ashish Chachi chuu ke charaniya, de diha apan dulaar, vote maange betwa tohar (touching your feet, I am seeking your blessings, O aunt please shower your affection, your son is asking for your vote.)” Meanwhile, he asks bhauji not to commit her vote to any other party before considering his plea: “…Dosara se kariha na bhauji kono karaar ho, NDA ke raaj maangat baate Bihar ho, seva  tohar kari tore devarwa, badli na kabhi vichar ho, vote maange devara tohar ho (Don’t commit your vote to anyone O sister-in-law, Bihar needs the NDA government, your brother-in-law will serve you, will not change, your brother-in-law asks for your vote).”

Early last week, a less known singer PK Raja released his song endorsing BJP strongly to an undecided Bhauji.While convincing the lady to ask her migrant husband to come home for voting and defeat the Grand Alliance against Prime Minister Modi, Raja reminds her of Modi’s welfare schemes like housing and provision of LPG cylinders.

Moreover, suggesting what she should do while going to the election booth, i e village school, Raja says: “Unnis ke chunav mein Bhauji vote diha phool par, Modi ke naara lagawat jayieha gawuan ke school par ..deshwa khatir Modiji kaini bari kaam ho, gareeb kisan ke jhopri banawali makan ho, dele na rehti gaswa, ta khana banawta chulh par.” (Sister-in-law, vote for the flower, and while going to the village school to vote keep shouting slogans in Modi’s support. Modiji has done a lot of work for the country, turned the huts of poor farmers into houses. If he wouldn’t have provided gas, you would be cooking on smoke-filled chulha.)

The RJD-led alliance finds endorsement in a song that tries to assure a concerned wife about sushasan (good governance) once RJD gains power at the Centre in 2019. The popular Pramod Premi Yadav-Antara Singh duet has the wife (addressed as rani, queen, in the song) expressing her disappointment with the NDA government and asking her husband (addressed as raja, king, in the song) when will sushasan come: “…Humro Bihar barbaad hoel baa, sushan ke dekh na raaj aayel baa, mann mein sochal poora aash kab hoyee? [O my king, my Bihar is getting ruined, see good governance hasn’t come, when will my heartfelt wish get fulfilled?]”

The husband optimistically responds — “Aave da 2019 rani tab hoyee, Lalu ke sarkar hoyee. (O my queen, let 2019 come, your wish will be fulfilled as there will be a Lalu government.)

Bhauji, of course, can’t be kept out of campaign music for long, she finds place in RJD’s promotional song too. The duet, sung by leading Bhojpuri pop singer and actor Khesari Lal Yadav and Khushbu Uttam, is being used for RJD’s 2019 poll campaign even though it was worked out of a popular song when Nitish Kumar’s Janata Dal (United) was in the mahagatbandhan.

The song has an undecided Bhaujai telling her devar (brother-in law) about her confusion over whom to vote for. She says: “…Suni Devarji hamaar fail hoyeel matiya, kekara ke vote dee, bhujayet nahi batiya, rauye batayeen button kekar dabayee? (Listen Devarji , my discretion isn’t working and I am unable to decide whom to vote for and press which button).” This is, obviously,  followed by Devar’s emphatic endorsement of theRJD’s election symbol, lantern, as he says: “…Lalteniye kaam aayee, sunn aeye bhaujai (Only lantern will work).”

While these songs have placed women voters at the centre of the campaign imagination, most of them still have a patronising tone. Her choice is always being guided by male members. The songs are yet to register the qualitative change in how women voters are exercising their electoral franchise with greater degree of decision-making autonomy.

Even so, the sheer quantitative effect of women turnout at polling booths hasn’t gone unnoticed in pop Bhojpuri circuit. The wooing of Bhauji for votes is likely to continue well after the 2019 polls.

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