The Boomerang Effect Of India’s Political Slogans

Manmohan Singh, Indira Gandhi, Vajpayee, Slogans
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From “Garibi Hatao” to “Acche Din Aanewalle Hai”, political slogans seem to work at first - until they're made to backfire.

India’s political catchphrases and slogans have a habit of coming back to bite its makers.

No matter how awe-inspiring or witty they are, there is always room for political opponents, satirists and even history to turn them around. From “Garibi Hatao” to “Acche Din Aanewalle Hai”, we look at some of the slogans that stuck, sometimes for reasons far from the original intent.

“Jai Jawan, Jai Kisan: Victory to the Soldier, Victory to the Farmer”


Congress, hand, garibi hatao
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In 1965, India was engaged in its most frenetic conflict with Pakistan yet. Against the backdrop of a food grain scarcity, Prime Minister Lal Bahadur Shastri coined the slogan to enthuse farmers to produce more grains in the name of the nation.

Both farmer and soldier prevailed, and the slogan held to its name. Its longevity was assured, as both were archetypes of an India that everybody wanted to win.

After India’s 1998 nuclear tests, Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee appended ‘Jai Vignan’ to the slogan, meaning ‘Victory to Science!’

Scientists, minimal, nuke

Various state governments have since tried to use it for their schemes. But the phrase’s most tragic use came in 2014, when farmer Gajendra Singh hung himself at an Aam Aadmi Party political rally. His crops had failed that year, and with him unable to provide for his family, he was thrown out of his house. After watching the leaders speak at the last party he would ever join, he took his own life. In his pocket lay a suicide note detailing his problems. “My father threw me out of the house because my harvest was destroyed. I have three children.” He signed off the note with “Jai Jawan, Jai Kisan.”

“Garibi Hatao, Indira Lao, Desh bachao: Abolish Poverty, Bring in Indira, Rescue the Nation”

Congress, hand, garibi hatao
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The election slogan for Indira Gandhi’s 1971 run, it was a chance for the Congress to change its image from that of a landowner’s party to one of the poor. Garibi Hatao was an ambitious claim, an assurance of something that had never been done before.

Seven years later, the slogan would be mocked for being ineffective, as bureaucratic hurdles and mismanagement stumbled Indira’s anti-poverty measures. J.P. Narayan, who led the ‘Total Revolution’ campaign against Indira, tweaked the term to “Indira Hatao, Desh Bachao – Abolish Indira, Rescue the Nation.”

“Inquilab Zindabad: Long Live the Revolution”

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The rousing cry of the Indian Freedom Struggle, it came to prominence as Bhagat Singh’s cry, after bombing Delhi’s Central Assembly in 1929. With the establishment of Independent India 17 years later, one would assume that the revolution had been successfully short-lived. However, many remained for whom revolution was still pending.

The Communist Party of India (Marxist) would take up the slogan as their own. Insurgency movements against the Indian state also appropriate the slogan – which serves as a rousing cry for any revolution. In Kashmir, it’s been adapted to the separatist movement, as graffiti on walls and the chants of crowds.

Inquilab Zindabad was once a rousing cry of the freedom struggle. But, saying it today might put you on the wrong side of the Government.

“India Shining”

BJP, Lotus, logo
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Vajpayee’s slogan for the 2004 election. The campaign tried to sell the glitzy image of the new, emerging Indian economy. With a media blitz of images of super highways, shining cities at night and other images of hyper-urban development, it seemed like India had emerged as a modern developed superpower. As journalist P. Sainath once wrote, India shines best when the media apply the polish.

However, the 2004 elections proved a disaster for the BJP, who came across as pro-urban, while the Congress came to power on a pro-poor model.

On asked whether India Shining was the worst poll strategy ever, Sudanshu Mittal, a politician for the BJP, said the campaign’s real effect was its memorability. “Tell me, does anyone remember the 2009 ad campaign? No one. And that is what India Shining’s success was.”

 “Acche Din Aane Waale Hai: Good Days Are On Their Way”

This slogan is well known as Narendra Modi’s major claim of his 2014 run for Prime Minister. But it wasn’t Modi who coined it, giving it the dubious distinction of backfiring on two prime ministers.

The idea of a looming ‘Acche Din’ was coined by then-Prime-Minister Manmohan Singh, acknowledging that while the times were bad,  good days were soon coming. Modi, in a speech given the next day, took the latter part of Manmohan’s statement, and made that the promise of his campaign.

It certainly did the job – Modi won with a smooth majority.

But in the days, months and years following Modi’s election, acche din would become a synonym for criticism of the government. Critical articles on government policies, instances of stock market crashes and of demonetization would almost always include a sarcastic “Acche Din”.

It’s become a blanket stick to beat the government with, enough so that Nithin Gadkari said, “It is a bone stuck in our throat. Our country is such an ocean of dissatisfied souls that Acche Din never come.”

Times Change, But Slogans Don’t

Thanks to internet culture, slogans develop lives of their own. While Sudanshu may be right in thinking that there’s no such thing as bad publicity, if a party slogan rings hollow in discourse for too long – it’s a sign that the winds are turning against them.


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