During the 1960s and 1970s, the Family Planning Programme in India was being promoted in a large way, and communication was a vital component for its success. The DAVP and the Films Division were tasked with its propagation.
The ‘Lal Tikon’ (red triangle) logo – one of the icons of the programme – was ubiquitous; as was the other icon – an illustration of a small happy family comprising a man, a woman, and their son and daughter. Growing up in that era, I remember them vividly – staring at us from hoardings, posters, paintings on walls, newspapers, everywhere.
But what drove home the programme’s national significance to me, as well as millions of others, was hearing Mohammad Rafi – the singer whom I and the nation worshiped – give the programme his musical approbation (along with Asha Bhosle) in his inimitable style:
Hum Na Sochenge Apne Bachhon Ki Toh Sochega Kaun,
Sukh Ka Raaz Hai Bus Do Bachhe, Sukh Ki Nishani Lal Tikon
Lal Tikon, Lal Tikon, Lal Tikon
This was not the only government scheme or programme Rafi gave his thumbs up to. The Five Year Plan also received his singing endorsement (in duet with Lata Mangeshkar, no less):
Kehdo Yeh Gaaon Ke Jaat Ko
Aur Shehar Ke Gentleman Ko
Kaamyab Hum Karke Rahenge
5 Saal Ke Plan Ko
‘Music Helps Engage Masses for Political & Social Change’
All over the world, and especially in India where music is an abiding partner in every Indian’s journey from womb to tomb, music is the most efficacious medium to engage masses for political and social change.
It helps to increase awareness, and brings to light critical issues which other methods may fail to do.
It is, therefore, no surprise that political parties consider this method an integral ‘must-have’ in their political campaigning. Their programmes and promises and achievements, through well-known singers, reach out to the masses more potently than the best orators and advertisements in their arsenal.
Besides endorsing the government schemes, Rafi was also roped in by the Congress to support it during elections:
Watan Ke Naam Ke Liye
Gareeb Awaam Ke Liye
Yeh Waqt Ki Pukar Hai Ki
Congress Ko Vote Do
There was another election song Mohammad Rafi lent his voice to:
Congress Ko Vote Dein
Do Bailon Ki Jodi Wala
Congress Ka Amitt Nishan
Jiske Peechhe Bhara Pada
Azaadi Ka Itihaas Mahaan
How could Mukesh be left out? He sang ‘Congress Vijay Ho’.
All the songs sung by the venerable singers were original in tune and lyrics.
Rafi’s magic, however, did not work in 2014. Biswajit, the well-known actor, stood for elections from New Delhi constituency as a Trinamool Congress candidate, essentially to tap into the large Bengali population living in Chittaranjan Park. Every day, an auto rickshaw would make several rounds of the area, blaring Biswajit’s hits from a loudspeaker.
It was great to hear Rafi’s ‘Pukarta Chala Hun Main’, ‘Humdum Mere Maan Bhi Jaao ‘, ‘Nazar Na Lag Jaaye’, and other songs.
Even Hemant Kumar couldn’t work his magic with songs such as ‘Beqaraar Karke Humme Yun Na Jaayiye’. Mahendra Kapoor never had a chance with ‘Laakhon Hai Yahan Dilwale’. While the older generation may still have felt nostalgic, the younger generation felt no resonance. Defeat may have reminded Biswajit of his well-known song ‘April Fool Banaya, Toh Unko Gussa Aaya’.
‘The Election Song Is An Institution Unto Itself’
The election music landscape has undergone a massive change in quantity and quality in the past decade or so. With a multiplicity of parties, aggressive and divisive elections, a plethora of singers and studios, technology and its ability to churn out songs overnight, the ‘Election Song’ has turned into an institution of its own. It’s everywhere. There is no hiding from it. It’s on every platform, at every rally and procession.
Consider the case of the popular Haryanvi singer-dancer Sapna Choudhary who is a mega star in rural areas, where her stage shows attract mammoth crowds. Her videos go viral, attracting fans beyond Haryana.
Though Choudhary is a Haryanvi singer, she has a broader appeal in rural north India, especially within the Jat community who dominate dozens of parliamentary constituencies in Rajasthan, Delhi and western Uttar Pradesh, apart from Haryana.
That’s why both the Congress and the BJP were desperate to have her in their corner. She chose the latter. But she sings her own hit songs at rallies. Then there are popular songs whose lyrics are changed to highlight the political party’s achievements, or to decry the Opposition. This is where some semblance of originality (albeit in lyrics) makes an entry.
Why Parodies Or Covers? Why Not Original Songs?
In Kerala, the song ‘Kasturi’ had rattled the ruling UDF during the 2016 Assembly Elections. The song had targeted the report of the Kasturirangan Panel on the Western Ghats. The song would blare out from every nook and cranny of the state, and adversely impacted the UDF. In a remarkable show of professionalism, the same songwriter (KAM Kareem) also penned a song on the murder of TP Chandrasekhar by the Left for the UDF.
But why parodies? Why not original songs? New songs do not attract listeners as much as familiar music does – wittily rewritten to deliver sarcasm, invective and poll promises.
But on the national level, things begin to change. Many original songs enter the fray. Consider the new anthem ‘Saugandh Mujhe Iss Mitti Ki’ of the BJP, sung by Sukhwinder Singh, penned by Prasoon Joshi, and composed by Aadesh Shrivastava.
Relying On Well-Known Tunes, Rather Than Originality
The same song, but dedicated to the soldiers and the nation, has been sung by Lata too (she does mention Prime Minister Modi in her preamble); the music has been composed by Mayuresh Pai.
In the earlier elections, AR Rahman’s Oscar-winning ‘Jai Ho’ was used by the Congress in in its election campaigns with different variants – each having its own lyrics. Instead of being original, the party decided to rely on a well-known tune.
In 2017, Alka Yagnik and Sonu Nigam sang a song on Modi – ‘Son of India’, written by Bindeshwar Pathak, Founder of the Sulabh Sanitation Movement.
"Son of India" (Hindi) - A Song on Hon'ble PMO India Shri Narendra Modi - written by Dr. Bindeshwar Pathak सुलभ...Posted by Sulabh International Social Service Organisation on Wednesday, August 16, 2017
Kailash Kher has been very active and has sung across party lines.
He did a song for AAP.
Later, in 2017, he did a song for BJP – ‘UP Ke Mann Ki Baat Karein’.
Kher even sang ‘Swachh Bharat Ka Irada Hai’ at the Modi government’s two-year celebrations.
Kailash Kher also sang ‘Vote Do’, not affiliated to any party, exhorting people to exercise their franchise.
When Shankar Mahadevan came out with ‘Breathless’ in 1998, who would have imagined that the same tune and concept would be recreated two decades later in a new avatar – ‘Non-Stop India’ – highlighting the various schemes of the Modi government.
Udit Narayan sang ‘Modi Aanewala Hai’ in 2014.
Udit Narayan also sang for the BJP in 2016 – ‘Chal Kamal Ke Saath’.
And there are many more. This is just a brief glimpse of the sheer size and vibrancy of the ‘institution’ that is the ‘Election Song’.
Kishore Kumar’s Tryst With the Congress
Can any article on the ‘Election Song’ be complete without a mention of Kishore Kumar? During the Emergency, Kishore was banned by the Ministry of Information & Broadcasting on All India Radio, and Doordarshan. His crime – refusal to participate in a public event organised by the Indian Youth Congress.
When the Emergency was revoked in 1977 and the Congress shown the door, Kishore exacted his revenge in the only way he knew best – through his music. In the film Nasbandi (1978), he sang a song ‘Gandhi Tere Desh Mein’, decrying the state of the nation with this opening salvo:
Janata Ki Awaaz Hai Yeh
Sun Le O Bapu Gandhi
Yeh Kaisa Hahakaar Desh Mein
Yeh Kaisi Aag Ki Aandhi (a clever reference to the movie of the same name which was banned during the Emergency).
In the last stanza, Kishore highlights the contribution of the leaders in overthrowing the Congress government:
Saare Desh Par Zulm o Sitam Ke Ghor Andhere Jab Chhaye
Tab Prakash Ki Kirnay Lekar Jai Prakash Aage Aaye
Vijay Laxmi Pandit Ne Janata Ka Manobal Badha Diya
Raj Narayan Ne Na-mumkin, Mumkin Karke Dikha Diya
Mazhab Se Kam Nahi Mulk, Bole Jama Masjid Ke Imam
Prajatantra Ko Nav Jeevan Dene Aaye Jagjivan Ram
George Fernandez Tod Ke Aaye Ilzaamon Ki Zanjeeren
Shri Morarji Ke Aane Se Chamak Uthi Phir Taqdeeren
Charan Singh Aur Chandrasekhar Ne Logon Ke Dilon Ko Jeeta
Vaapas Le Aayi Janata Apni Aazadi Ki Sita
Atal Bihari, Advani, Nana Ne Kiya Uddhar
Gandhi Tere Naam Ki Ab Hogi Jayjayakar
However, the ‘Election Song’ can only do so much. Eventually it’s not the song that is going to bail out the respective political parties, but their performance. As the song puts it –
Ye Jo Public Hai Sab Jaanti Hai
Aji Andar Kya Hai, Aji Baahar Kya Hai
Ye Sab Kuchh Pehchanti Hai
(Ajay Mankotia is a former IRS officer presently working with a media company. This is an opinion piece, and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for them.)
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