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  Opinion   Oped  22 Mar 2019  Countdown is on… May the best chowkidar win!

Countdown is on… May the best chowkidar win!

Irreverent, provocative, opinionated... Shobhaa De has been challenging status quo for four decades... and is at her best when she punctures inflated egoes. Readers can send feedback to
Published : Mar 23, 2019, 12:15 am IST
Updated : Mar 23, 2019, 12:15 am IST

A chowkidar’s primary role is to guard and protect those who have hired him.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Congress Chief Rahul Gandhi (Photo: File)
 Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Congress Chief Rahul Gandhi (Photo: File)

The word “chowkidar” is so deliciously old-fashioned. At the moment, India is experiencing a seminal chowkidar moment. We are obsessing over that word. In fact, someone really smart (or dumb — depends on your perspective) decided to turn the Rahul Gandhi taunt (“Chowkidar chor hai”) around and convert it into a neat strategy for Narendra Modi and friends. Overnight, all BJP-wallas became “chowkidars” by adding the word to their official Twitter handles. Clever. But, perhaps a bit too clever. Hilarious video interviews with true-blue chowkidars across India told a different story. Most of the professional chowkidars were not amused! They felt insulted! They take pride in their jobs. They are not pretenders like these chaps. Imagine that!

Chowkidars are a unique breed in India. They go by different names — I like durwan better than chowkidar. Durwans are traditional “doorkeepers”. Today’s fancy chowkidars, on the other hand, are given smart uniforms by the agencies that train them. They are then packed off and called security guards. The old-school chowkidars were different — chowkidari ran in families. A chowkidar’s son or son-in-law took over the job when the old man died. In some cities, these loyal and wonderful men were called “Gurkhas”, even if they were not from Nepal. “Gurkha” was the generic description for the person who locked the gates of the mansion/haveli at night, and sat on a rickety chair next to the “chowki” armed with a danda. To let his masters know he was not sleeping on the job, he was instructed to walk around the property, banging the danda on the stone floor on the hour. He would wake up all the strays in the neighbourhood, of course, but he would also impress his “sethlog” into believing in him, while they snored away on gigantic four-poster beds. Trusting your chowkidar was key to your own sense of safety.


Aha — there you have it! The magic word. Trust. At the moment there is a major trust deficit in India. And all the chowkidars are suspect. They are armed with dandas all right. But if those dandas are there to be used against innocent citizens, then we have a monumental problem. Regardless of who wields the danda, chowkidars are getting a bad name. Who is a chor and who isn’t is for the courts to decide. But that there are countless chors on the prowl cannot be denied. One maha chor was arrested in London earlier this week. The question being asked is what were all our chowkidars doing while Nirav Modi was living the high life openly in Britain’s capital He was not in hiding. He was not maintaining a low profile. He was busy setting up a brand new business! Since there was nothing covert about any of this, surely any competent chowkidar would have alerted the authorities in London and moved fast to pick up the fugitive and bring him back to India to face the music. But that didn’t happen. It took an intrepid reporter from the Telegraph newspaper to spot Nirav Modi on a busy street and film him as he smoothly evaded questions with a calm, terse “No comments”. It was only after this dramatic expose that our chowkidars woke up. This is a patently disingenuous move. They must have known all along where Nirav Modi was hanging out. What are our intelligence sleuths there for, if not to track the biggest financial criminal and indict him? If that didn’t happen, our chief chowkidar should admit to the obvious intelligence failure and take responsibility for the lapse. And hello! The dramatic arrest in a bank, as Nirav Modi tried to open an account, has everything to do with the alertness of a bank clerk who called the police. Where were our chowkidars? Still sleeping? A criminal who looted `13,500 crores from Indian banks, would have still been out of jail (where he is currently lodged), had a British reporter and a bank clerk not done what all our chowkidars collectively failed to. Disgraceful!


Ditto for the intelligence failure behind the dastardly Pulwama attack. Will we ever know the truth behind what took place under the chief chowkidar’s watch that awful night? How could a lone terrorist drive into a military convoy undetected, and kill over 40 CRPF men in one swift and suicidal operation? Are we not supposed to question our chief chowkidar? More than a month later, and post-Balakot, citizens are still struggling to come to terms with the tragedy. The chowkidars are keeping mum. What can they say, anyway?

Now that the countdown to elections 2019 has begun, it is already a bit too late in the day to question the purana chowkidars about the myriad lapses that have impacted our lives and left gaping credibility holes. A chowkidar’s primary role is to guard and protect those who have hired him. In this case — it is we, the people. It is the chowkidar’s job to safeguard India’s security and safety, putting that above all else. As of now, citizens are not feeling safe. There is a confidence issue. The distress is also being caused by the lack of a better chowkidar on the scene. If this one has to be sacked, who will replace him? A chowkidar’s job is never easy. This sprawling “zamindari” is called India. The chowkidar is honour-bound to protect its soil and people — howsoever vast and unwieldy. India belongs to every citizen. We are the stakeholders. If the next chowkidar does not possess a 56-inch-chest, we won’t complain. We are not intimidated by a “danda” either. That’s antiquated! Dandas don’t create jobs. Only a shrewd chowkidar who figures out something as basic and delivers on promises made, will restore lost confidence and win our hearts and votes.


So… Mitronnnnn… may the best chowkidar win. Errrr, since we are on the topic, my money is on a female chowkidar. There, I said it!

Tags: chowkidars, rahul gandhi, narendra modi