(Bloomberg) -- The humble chowkidar -- watchman in Hindi -- is getting attention like never before in India.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi declared himself a chowkidar who is "standing firm & serving the nation" as he rolled out his “I’m also a watchman” election campaign slogan on Twitter Saturday. He changed his name on the social media platform to include it, a move that prompted senior leaders of his ruling Bharatiya Janata Party and their supporters to do the same.
“I am not alone,” Modi said in a Twitter post to his 46 million followers. “Everyone who is fighting corruption, dirt, social evils is a chowkidar. Everyone working hard for the progress of India is a chowkidar.”
The innocuous word trended worldwide on Twitter and set off a battle on social media between Modi’s supporters and those backing the opposition. His main opponent, Rahul Gandhi of the Congress Party, retweeted an image consisting of photos of Modi and fugitive tycoons Vijay Mallya, Nirav Modi among others.
Gandhi addressed rallies across some northern Indian cities on Sunday with a separate chowkidar slogan -- “the watchman is a thief.” He has accused Modi of supporting industrialists such as Anil Ambani, the billionaire who is under threat of being jailed for failing to pay dues owed to telecom giant Ericsson, and fugitive jeweler Nirav Modi, who’s wanted in a $2 billion fraud case.
Gandhi also accused the prime minister of being complicit in alleged corruption in the decision to purchase Rafale fighter jets from France. The government has denied Gandhi’s allegations. Modi has countered that previous Congress Party’s regimes were riddled with scandals.
Social platforms such as Facebook, its messaging service WhatsApp, Google’s YouTube and Twitter are weapons as the country of 1.3 billion people readies for election. The Election Commission has called executives from Facebook, Google, Twitter and other social platforms for a meeting on Tuesday to discuss election-related fake news and bogus videos trending on their networks.
The vote is spread over six weeks because of the daunting logistics of polling the world’s largest electorate: roughly 900 million voters stretching from the remote Himalayas in the north to the tropical jungles of the south. It kicks off on April 11 and results will be announced on May 23.
India has become the world’s fastest-growing smartphone market since the last election and has its second-largest number of internet users after China, with nearly half a billion of them. About 450 million Indians own a smartphone, 300 million use Facebook, and over 200 million send messages on WhatsApp and over 30 million Indians are on Twitter.
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