Bhojpuri is Making
Voters Dance in
Delhi Election
Theek Hai!
News18 Immersive
Bhojpuri is Making
Voters Dance in
Delhi Election
Theek Hai!
Political Parties Are Banking on Bhojpuri Tunes to Woo Purvanchali Voters Who Can Make or Break the Government in Delhi
By Majid Alam

Since the end of the first week of January, the dingy basement in the narrow lanes of north Delhi has started witnessing footfall. A narrow staircase leads to a musty basement that is barely visited by any daylight or air. The claustrophobic space, divided into two rooms using a plywood, can hardly accommodate 10-12 people. The jam-packed area is lit up with cheap LED lights of all sorts, throwing a speckled pattern of shadows and glitters over a billboard on the iron door that reads ‘Raaj Studios’.

Pushpak Raja is engrossed in a deep conversation with a group of people sitting around in his studio while a person prepares the dummy version of his upcoming song. Pushpak has taken a day out of his working hours to prepare the song for the Delhi assembly polls. “What day is the election?” he asks, to which someone sitting in a corner replies, “8th February.”

The initial lines of the song are:

Acche beetay paanch saal, lage raho Kejriwal,
Sabse niman bate Rajdhani ho,
Jhaadu pe button dabaiyo ho bhaiya,
Mili bijli aur paani ho

Listening to the lyrics, Kumar Shravan interrupts, “It doesn’t have a nice ring. There is much scope for improvement. If four of the five sitting here begin to dance at your song, only then it qualifies.” Shravan is a lyricist and the driving force behind amateur singers falling short of words and tune. He is said to possess the Midas touch with the choice of verse and weaving it into melody. However, Pushpak doesn’t seem impressed. Shravan immediately takes out his smartphone and uses voice search for “Lucky Babu Bhojpuri”. A list of related videos follow. Shravan presses one with the image of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, and the song plays out.

Saare kale choro ne banaya gathbandhan,
Modiji hi tha jisne chhudaya Abhinandan;
Bache na koi atanki, Ab maar girana hai
Swachh Bharat banana hai, Modiji ko phir se jeetana hai

“See, the song has got more than five million views. Look, I am there in the video. I wrote the lyrics for the song. There are hundreds of others. You can find them on YouTube,” Shravan concludes, resting his case.

A group of people discussing the lyrics of a Bhojpuri song. (Photo: Author)

A simple Google search for Bhojpuri gives us a glimpse of the extent of the industry over the digital world. Spanning YouTube, social media and other entertainment apps, this music business is one of the most underestimated. The people and infrastructure associated with the trade can be found in hundreds of low-cost apartments in the national capital. There are more than 500 Bhojpuri music labels and 200 studios in Delhi alone.

Pushpak works at a bakery in Mayapuri, an area on the periphery of the expanding capital. He has travelled 25 kilometres from the western part of the capital to Ganesh Nagar in the north-east periphery. The reason is his passion for Bhojpuri music. Pushpak is one of many aspiring singers who aim to make a career in this industry. He hails from Sitamarhi in Bihar and has been living in Delhi for the last two years. “My love for Bhojpuri music has been there for the last nine years,” he says. The popularity of Bhojpuri music and the desire of many to make a name in the industry has left Raaj Studio perpetually teeming with amateur singers, artistes, composers, lyricists, etc, looking for a swift route to success.

Pushpak recording a song at Raj Studio, Delhi. (Photo: Author)
I
Numbers Game

The Bhojpuri music industry isn’t just about language, music or career. It churns out very real numbers: figures which every political party wants to capture during elections. According to estimates, 33.5 per cent of the 14 million people in the capital are Purvanchalis – from eastern Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Jharkhand and parts of West Bengal – who are on the radar of all political parties. Analysts say failing to woo them cost the Congress dear in the previous assembly elections when the party failed to win a single seat. Arvind Kejriwal, on the other hand, benefitted the most from courting Purvanchalis, having 13 MLAs, including state minister Gopal Rai, Rajya Sabha MP Sanjay Singh, and leaders Dilip Pandey and Somnath Bharti as prominent faces of the party.

Bhojpuri songs engulf a combination of themes, including titillation, politics, everyday concerns and identity, becoming a big draw for a major section of the Purvanchali voters, and others. A Pawan Singh song on YouTube, depicting lewdness and romance, easily fetches 300 million views, while another for a political campaign fetches 23 million views. The numbers in support of Bhojpuri songs are enough to keep the industry flourishing. Experts say that the simplicity of such songs and the instant appeal draws a huge audience.

Unlike the general trend where the entertainment industry tries to stay away from contentious issues, Bhojpuri music is at the forefront of simmering subjects. For instance, it came up with a song days after demonetisation was implemented by the Modi government. Similarly, whether it was the 2019 Balakot airstrikes or the latest National Register of Citizens, the Bhojpuri music industry has a song for every topic.

Notebandi jab tu kaylo ta line laga lama
Kuch niyam karo laagu, ekro ke kadil jama;
Ego hamro sujhaav pasand kro Modiji
Jaldi purana Biwi band karo Modiji

II
A Song for Every Occasion

When the rape of a minor triggered attacks against people from Bihar in Gujarat in October 2018, there was outrage among people from the Hindi-speaking belt. Pushpak was quick to respond. “The best song that I have sung is ‘Gujarati sala’,” he says. “The views on YouTube went over 5 million; that’s a huge number.” He recites the first few lines:

Imli ka ped koi chandan se kam nahi
UP-Bihar ke bhaiyon koi London se kam nahi
UP, Bihar pe jo kamno haath uthaybe sun Guajrati sala
Haybe hum UP, Bihar ke laala sun Gujarati sala

“The song became a hit in the market. I received a lot of appreciation,” adds Pushpak. But there were fierce reactions too. Pushpak says he recieved threats on the phone and the song was reported as offensive by many on YouTube after which it was taken down by the platform.

Bhojpuri songs, with their catchy tunes and wide base, offer explainers on everyone and every issue: be it Article 370, demonetisation, GST, Modi, Kejriwal, etc.

Video thumbnail of a song Pushpak wrote after the abrogation of Article 370.

Experts say that this music builds a form of trust among the masses with the political leaders. “Such political songs are essential especially in a society where people lack a sense of belief and the symbolism helps in establishing an equation with the leaders,” says Ajay Gudavarthy, associate professor of Political Science at Delhi’s Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU). The simplification of complex issues presented as mere slogans is what the audience finds most appealing. Often, the political songs are loaded with keywords – ‘Bharat Mata Ki Jai’, ‘Jai Shree Ram’, ‘Pakistan’ and ‘Desh’ – which appeal to majoritarian sentiments.

III
Popular Appeal

The Bhojpuri entertainment industry has lots of icons to look up to. Previously, every amateur Bhojpuri artiste wanted to sing like Khesari Lal Yadav or Pawan Singh. But the entry of Bhojpuri stars in politics has added fresh impetus to the entertainment industry. When Manoj Tiwari defeated former Delhi chief minister Sheila Dikshit in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections by 3.3 lakh votes, the outcome didn’t shock many as the Bharatiya Janata Party leader from Bihar had been winning the North East Delhi constituency since 2014. Last year’s parliamentary polls for the first time witnessed three stars of the Bhojpuri industry in national electoral politics – Nirahua, Ravi Kishan and Manoj Tiwari. Only Nirahua lost, to former Uttar Pradesh chief minister Akhilesh Yadav.

The entry of Bollywood stars in politics isn’t new, but regional luminaries jumping into the fray have also found many admirers.

Scrolling through his playlists, Shravan pulls out a song he wrote for the campaign of Sunny Deol for the Gurdaspur constituency in the Lok Sabha elections. Candidates from many political parties bank on Bhojpuri singers and composers for their poll drive.

“I earn around Rs 14,000 a month. However, a majority of my income goes into recording Bhojpuri songs. Who knows, my song could become a hit one day,” says Pushpak. According to studio owners, people have to pay between Rs 3,000 and Rs 6,000 for recording a song. The cost of editing the lyrics goes up to a thousand rupees.

IV
Demographic Change

In the last two decades, search for livelihood has led to a heavy influx of migrant workers from the Purvanchal belt into the National Capital Region. The political landscape of Delhi used to be dominated by Jats and Punjabis before. “But the demographic landscape changed as the numbers of Jats and Punjabis remained static and migration from the eastern parts of the country and the hilly areas continued,” says Prof Mahendra Prasad Singh who teaches Political Science at the University of Delhi. “To add to the numbers, people from the hill areas, including Uttarakhand, mix easily with Purvanchalis and show a commonality in political preferences with people from the eastern parts.”

In the last three assembly elections, Purvanchalis played a major role in deciding the outcome, believes Gudavarthy. In the north-east, north-west and eastern part of the capital, 25 of the 70 assembly seats are dominated by Purvanchali voters. Some constituencies in Delhi, including Burari, Seemapuri, Adarsh Nagar, Rithala, Ambedkar Nagar, Laxmi Nagar and Shahdara, are dominated by Purvanchali voters.

In the current assembly elections, one of the most prominent faces is Manoj Tiwari, a strong candidate for the chief minister’s post from the BJP. However, “Tiwari has not been projected as a face from a specific identity since the party is relying on PM Modi’s image. It will be interesting to watch, especially after the CAA-NRC protest, whether the Hindus move towards the BJP for a CAA-like agenda or will they vote for a welfare plan,” says Gudavarthy.

Video thumbnail of a song Pushpak wrote for a campaign in Bihar elections.

The growth of Purvanchalis has ensured Delhi wouldn’t just be a triangular contest between AAP, the BJP and Congress. The rise of voters from the Hindi belt has brought other regional parties into the game. For the first time, Bihar-based Rashtriya Janata Dal will form an alliance with the Congress and contest on four seats. The BJP is leaving three seats in the assembly for its allies from Bihar – Janata Dal (United) and Lok Janshakti Party. The entry of three parties with roots in Bihar shows how regional players expect to exercise control over voters living a thousand kilometres away.

With the elections just a few days away, every party wants the Purvanchali voters eating out of its hands, and Bhojpuri music could be the secret sauce for a winning recipe.

Credits

Produced by — Fazil Khan