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The question in this election season also is: which song will find its moment?

The Samajwadi Party is in tune with the times. So what if it chooses the tune of a 1989 hit for its campaign jingle in the run-up to the 2014 election? This election season, Billy Joel's "We didn't start the fire" makes a comeback as "Man se hai Mulayam", sung by Javed Ali. The SP's poll offering comes with its own video Mulayam Singh, dashing in crisp white kurta and jaunty red cap, descends on voters from a helicopter, flashing the victory sign, waving a free laptop.

The SP might be trying to signal hip and fresh, but the campaign song is one of the oldest traditions in representative politics. In the US, many a presidential contest has turned on a song. The first presidential elections were won with the help of "God save Great Washington", riffing on "God save the King". And in post-Depression America, Franklin D. Roosevelt came to power singing "Happy Days are Here Again". In India, around the time the Congress was fighting its earliest elections in the 1930s, support for the freedom movement was whipped up with songs set to the tune of bhajans. A few decades later, IPTA songs, speaking of revolution and empowerment, would be used to great effect by the Left in Bengal.

For campaign jingles to be effective, parties must find the right song for the moment. The Congress's "Chak de" didn't work in Gujarat 2007; neither did "Jai jai Bhim", with its references to a grim Dalit past, appeal to voters in UP in 2012. Now, the BJP talks up Narendra Modi and his "development record" in strident numbers sung by Rocky Mittal. Ahead of the Delhi election, the AAP promises a lofty change with Kailash Kher's "Ambar tak yahi naad goonjega". The Congress has also piped up with a valiant "Nahin rukegi meri Dilli". Which song will find its moment?

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