Arguably the largest number of watchmen or Chowkidars in this country are trained and supplied by BJP’s Rajya Sabha MP from Bihar RK Sinha and his security agency SIS. Sinha who started his career as a journalist and once owned an advertising agency is considered a security expert and his company has contracts with Governments in several states, banks, corporate bodies etc. to cater to their security needs. In his affidavit filed to the Election Commission, Sinha had declared a personal wealth of ₹800 Crore, making him one of the wealthiest Members of Parliament.
His son Rituraj, the present CEO of the firm, according to sources, is keen to contest the Lok Sabha election as a BJP candidate from Patna Sahib. This is the constituency from where former actor Shatrughan Sinha had won in 2014 and from where he is likely to be fielded by the opposition this time.
While both Shatrughan Sinha and Rituraj Sinha belong to the ‘Kayasth’ caste, BJP insiders say that the party’s central leadership is more inclined to field Union Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad, who is also a Kayasth. But there is a strong lobby which favours Rituraj and point to his youth, managerial ability and access to thousands of watchmen. One estimate puts the number of watchmen and guards employed by SIS at over 200,000.. He would have the necessary money power also to put up a formidable fight, insiders claim, in comparison to Prasad.
In this constituency, where the Kayasthas has a sizeable population, the BJP cannot afford to give ticket to any other caste.
But can the ‘ Chowkidars’ turn out to be an embarrassment for the BJP is the question. Many of the watchmen and guards employed by the SIS happen to be graduates, are aspirational but have languished in SIS for lack of more suitable employment opportunities. Several BJP insiders also claim that they are paid a pittance, in fact lower wages than what is shown on record.
With BJP’s social media campaign “Mein bhi chowkidar hoon.” , according to sources, being turned into a major event as part of BJP’s poll campaign, any unfavourable focus on SIS or Chowkidars supplied by SIS, BJP insiders in Bihar concede, could be a huge embarassment for the party.
Prime Minister Modi, according to information avilable, is going to address his own set of ‘chowkidars’ across the country. But the real chowkidars of the SIS or any other government or private agencies may not get the opportunity or time to listen to him as they may be busy performing their ‘ election’ duties.
During the election campaign of 2014 it was Chai Pei Charcha which was used to mobilise voters. The plan was made a couple of months before the electioneering reached its peak. It was a major hit.
But this time, it seems that the idea of “Main bhi chowkidar hoon” has come a little too late. In 2014 while Modi projected himself as the son of a ‘chaiwallah’ he managed to make direct contact with the masses. As tea stalls are places where politics is discussed, it had a major impact.
The credit for this innovative idea went to an election ‘strategist’ from Bihar, Prashant Kishor. Now he is the vice president of Janata Dal United, a constituent of the National Democratic Alliance in Bihar.
But the hastily planned “Main bhi chowkidar hoon” campaign has the potential to backfire as the plight of most private security guards, watchmen and bouncers are unflattering. In many apartments across the country they are working at meagre salary of ₹5,000 or even less per month, with no leave or even weekly off. Nor do they have any social security benefit.
If the rich and powerful, just for political reasons boast that they are chowkidars, they mat well be seen rubbing salt on the wounds of millions of poor and powerless groups of people deployed outside lakhs of offices, apartments and other premises.
RK Sinha and his son may claim that the condition of security guards of SIS is not so pitiable. But the big question is whether the campaign can potentially harm the BJP. Whether Rituraj Sinha gets the ticket or not, the thorny issue before the BJP is how to whitewash the condition of ‘Chowkidars’ in the country.