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As the country prepares for state and general elections, the business of campaigning feeds into and supports many smaller enterprises. From merchandise like T-shirts and caps, to masks and flags and even brooms, the pageantry and regalia surrounding poll campaigns creates a steady, if short-lived, demand and supply chain. In this chain are included campaign songs for different political parties and individuals. Although the era of record labels commissioning artistes and producers to create new albums is almost over, approaching elections have created a temporary space for lyricists and musicians to be hired for creating special campaign songs. In rare cases, artistes may believe in the ideology of a particular party or individual and may offer their skills gratis, but as a mammoth democracy prepares to go to the polls, the demand for ad agencies, speech writers, singers, music composers and lyricists goes up.

The use of music in political and social campaigning and activism is by no means new. Musician Narayan Moreshwar Khare, a disciple of the pioneer Vishnu Digambar Paluskar was sent by his guru to Mahatma Gandhi’s Sabarmati Ashram in the 1930s. Khare contributed to the musical life of the ashram, compiled Ashram Bhajanavali, a collection of prayers and hymns from different religions and in diverse languages, set to tune prayers and hymns sung at the ashram, in addition to teaching music to the inmates of the ashram. Khare also became a full member of the ashram, a fact that is indicative of his belief in Gandhian ideology. Currently, as political parties and individuals roll out their campaigns and campaign songs, one is left wondering how far, if at all, ideology will guide our musicians and lyricists when they choose to say yes to a campaign song.

The media recently reported that the Congress party in Delhi had released its theme song “Nahin Rukegi Meri Dilli" for the Delhi state assembly election. Penned by lyricist Prasoon Joshi and sung by Daler Mehndi, the launch of the song and accompanying audio-visual was widely reported in the media. Both artistes are of course, the most celebrated that anyone could ask for, but one cannot help remembering the “Lo Mashaalon Ko Jaga Dala" poem that Joshi wrote for Anna Hazare’s movement against corruption not so long ago. He further reinforced his loyalty to the campaign with “Itna Kyon Sotay Hain Hum". Given Hazare’s strong and open criticism of the Congress, it seems somewhat surprising to find one of his loyalists scripting the anthem for the Delhi Congress. Looking back further, it was also reported that in 2009 the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) had hired the ad-man Joshi to write slogans for its election campaign. Not that this surprise was the first of its kind. The Shiv Sena’s decision to ask the iconic Javed Akhtar, known for his progressive, liberal and inclusive views to script an anthem for Mumbai, and his acceptance was equally, if not more surprising.

What does this indicate? That with ad agencies and high-flying professionals handling election campaigns, each party will try and get the most famous and celebrated professionals to associate with their campaigns? Like a lawyer, who can be hired to defend either the accused or the victim, lyricists, singers and musicians too can be hired by politicians and their political parties, irrespective of their personal ideologies and beliefs? That the era of the Progressive Writer’s Association, which saw the involvement of poets of the stature of Kaifi Azmi and Sahir Ludhianvi, is long gone? Or, is it just that art transcends in truly inexplicable ways? Not for the Indian politician, it would seem. Why else would a Congress minister be petty enough to ask Lata Mangeshkar to return her Bharat Ratna on account of her open support to Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi, while in Delhi, the Congress showed no hesitation in having its anthem scripted by the same poet who scripted lines in its criticism for Hazare and earlier for the BJP?

Also Read | Shubha’s previous Lounge columns

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