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Lok Sabha polls: How the call for 'Modi once more' brought disparate people together, promoted message of positivity

Author: Smita Barooah
Publication: Firstpost.com
Date: June 4, 2019
URL:      https://www.firstpost.com/politics/lok-sabha-polls-how-the-call-for-modi-once-more-brought-disparate-people-together-promoted-message-of-positivity-6756701.html/amp?__twitter_impression=true

As I walked around my house today, I noticed a portable charger in my guest room, a pack of cigarettes on the sideboard, and a male handkerchief on a chair. All these items were left behind by various people who had congregated, from across the county, to watch our prime minister being sworn in on 30 May, 2019. They were the co-ordinators of volunteer teams across India.

The passes for the swearing-in ceremony had arrived late, leaving little time for logistical arrangements. They just booked their flights, packed a bag and headed to Delhi. My house turned into the default congregation place, a baraat ghar of sorts. People came in through the day, the kitchen turned into a makeshift langar, and every space was occupied by excited, sleep-deprived people, rehashing the election victory, catching up, and discussing what they’d wear. The men, for once, were even more vain than the women. Looking at the disparate bunch, nobody would have guessed that most were strangers till just a few months ago.  They came together for one goal - “Modi Once More” - and in the course of the journey, they became a part of a large extended family.

The engagement began on the prime minister’s birthday (17 September), when a group of us started a social media campaign. It was a simple outreach, via Twitter, Facebook and Instagram, using songs, videos, cartoons and memes. We didn’t have much experience or resources, so we bumbled along and did what we could as amateurs. As word got around, people started banding together. In the social media world, there were those who alleged that supporters were paid to work for Modi. We faced a strange situation where people were willing to spend time & money to work for the campaign!

Encouraged by the online response, we expanded to on-the-ground activities in January this year. To mobilise ground volunteers, we launched an evocative video reminding them of our exhilarating campaign in 2014. Once again, there was a deluge of support. It was almost as if people were waiting for an opportunity to engage. At the end of the process, we had 23 chapters in India and 2 abroad, and our teams touched over 70 constituencies across the country.

Our teams were self-funded and comprised of professionals from all walks of life, and across age groups. Writers, lawyers, IT professionals, teachers, producers, and businessmen united to help Narendra Modi get re-elected. Most had no political background and were new to this kind of volunteering. That was not a handicap, since our role was not to replace the incredibly hard-working party cadres. We were there to complement them by connecting regular people with the party, and adding value in whatever way we could.

The political inexperience of the volunteers was compensated by passion. To illustrate this, let me share our Varanasi experience. The prime minister’s constituency was at the heart of the campaign. Some of us went there to support our local chapter, and walk with the prime minster as he embarked on a road show before filing his nomination.

On the day of the rally, our team stood on the road at Lanka Gate with 6-7 lakh euphoric people. Everyone waited patiently in the scorching heat (40 degrees-plus) for over four hours, for a glimpse of the prime minister. We walked for miles, got pushed and trampled, scrambled to keep track of team members, sat on the baked road and sang when the feet gave up. Amidst it all, people danced, chanted, threw flowers and shared water and umbrellas with strangers. When the prime minister finally arrived, there was near hysteria and some women actually wept.

Through the heat and excitement, our team sustained itself by taking short breaks to have lassi and chaat. We moved through the city using whatever transport was available, including boats, autos, cars and bikes. It was a grand adventure, and we enjoyed every moment, despite the physical discomfort.

Now, as I reflect on the past few months, here are some key takeaways. Firstly, people are immensely resourceful. If they are motivated, they can innovate and deliver amazing results. For instance, our Indore team innovated with Poha-pe-charcha, our Delhi and Bangalore teams went out on Valentine’s Day, with roses and a prayer for Pulwama, the Hyderabad team went for daily lunchtime walks, other teams organised walkathons and chaupals.

Secondly, when the intent is positive, the means follow. When we decided to launch our first video, for instance, we floundered. None of us knew how to make one. Then some volunteers in Mumbai pooled in their creative talents, wrote the lyrics, found a singer, created the visuals, and we ended up with a product that touched a chord and went viral.

Thirdly, it all starts when one person stands up to be the change. For instance, our Kolkata team lead was apprehensive about people wearing our “Modi Once More” T-shirt openly due to safety concerns. Consequently, our first lot of volunteer photos from Kolkata didn’t show people’s faces. That changed quickly as the general public began to request for our T-shirts and started wearing them openly. In the end we could not cope with the demand.

Finally, it is important to focus on the goal and drown out the white noise. Our mandate was to spread awareness about the good work done in the past five years. The media and experts focused on intolerance, GST, demonetisation and a few stale topics.

Our teams doggedly went out to meet stakeholders and end beneficiaries. We filmed people who had got houses, toilets, and gas connections for the first time, and saw stories of transformation. In Varanasi, we met a Samajwadi Party-supporting weaver, who told us that he would vote for “Akhilesh bhaiya”in the state but for Modi at the Centre.  At the ghats, an old man teared up as he said, “Modi ne humey apna maan wapas dia hai”(Modi has given us back our honour). These stories were our opinion polls.

We also met detractors and heard their views, for we believed that every voter counts, and all perspectives were necessary for a composite picture.

On the eve of the counting day, given the feedback from across the county, we knew victory was certain, but the numbers were not. Most of us were so wound up that we hardly slept. Once again, many of our members came to Delhi to watch the results together at the BJP headquarters. The mood was ecstatic and the numbers stopped registering after BJP touched 300 seats.

The post-victory celebrations were at Khan Market - the watering hole of Delhi’s elite. The enduring image from that night was of our young team from Madhya Pradesh. They sat with a guitar on the sidewalk, in the middle lane, singing songs. That pretty much summed up the essence of our volunteer campaign- a collective journey of positivity, hope, friendship and teamwork.
 
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