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Why Election 2024 Is So Subdued...

By Ajinkya Kawale, Anushka Bhardwaj, Ishita Ayan Dutt & Ramveer Singh Gurjar
April 22, 2024 10:15 IST
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'It's dull because this time the election is spread over such a long period.'

IMAGE: A vendor sells flags and umbrellas printed with the symbols of different policital parties at a market in Kolkata, April 16, 2024. Photograph: ANI Photo

The 18th Lok Sabha election has begun, but the demand for campaign material and merchandise is yet to pick up across cities.

Businesses engaged in the manufacture and sale of election paraphernalia -- banners, badges, pamphlets, t-shirts, caps, bags, cutouts and masks -- say compared to the last general election in 2019, the scene is muted.

Turns out that in the last 10 years, the business of election merchandise has shrunk to less than half, with the focus shifting to campaigning through digital platforms.

Earlier, each candidate would spend an average of Rs 12 lakh to Rs 15 lakh (Rs 1.2 million to Rs 1.5 million) on election merchandise. That is down to Rs 6 lakh to Rs 8 lakh (Rs 600,000 to Rs 800,000) now.

Overall, each candidate can spend no more than Rs 95 lakh (Rs 9.5 million) on election expenses, though the party can.

Also, with political outfits like the Bharatiya Janata Party having centralised procurement, traders say their businesses have been hit.

The BJP, they add, is sourcing most of the election material from its chosen manufacturers in Gujarat.

Mumbai: Warming up

In Dharavi, Mumbai's slum cluster that is home to scores of micro, small and medium enterprises, traders say whatever business they have, it is largely from the BJP.

"The BJP has placed orders for t-shirts and caps with its new slogan: Ab ki baar, 400 paar (this time around, 400-plus seats)," says Asgar Makrani, who runs a printing unit near Dharavi.

Makrani is a wholesale manufacturer who services mainly corporate clients, but his business circle extends to those who cater to political parties.

A manufacturer who does not wish to be named says one of their Surat-based partners recently delivered one million caps to the BJP.

"The party has also placed an order of about 20 million bags with various vendors across the country," he says, adding that he hasn't seen much demand from regional parties this time round.

The demand, he adds, could also be muted because the model code of conduct is now in place.

A party worker from Ozar, a town roughly 20 km from Nashik, Maharashtra, feels the reason could be because polling in their constituency is over a month away.

Maharashtra will vote in five phases, from April 19 to May 20.

"There is still a lot of time to go before we hit elections here," says the party worker.

"Moreover, in smaller towns like ours, there's usually less demand for election materials" -- unless it is a local body or state election.

Some, like Pune-based manufacturer Akash More, say they have stopped taking orders from political parties even though they have full-fledged operations for printing banners, posters and pamphlets of all sizes.

"Parties don't settle the accounts once the election is over," says More.

"We work only for those with whom we have good relations and who pay upfront."

Karyakartas (party workers) and heads of shakhas (local branch offices) say they are following a multi-pronged outreach strategy: Rallies, pamphlets and banners, and social media engagement.

"We are engaging with voters across different parts of Mumbai through small rallies in every neighbourhood," says the chief of a shakha from the Uddhav Thackeray-led faction of Shiv Sena.

"In these rallies, we are using saffron scarves from our party inventory and distributing pamphlets," he adds, showing a video of one such rally that started from the Siddhi Vinayak temple in Prabhadevi.

Such outreach has become an important part of the agenda since the party symbol has changed, says a senior leader.

"For the Maha Vikas Aghadi (the state-level coalition), it is important to raise awareness about the new party symbols," he says.

These symbols include a flaming torch for Uddhav Thackeray's Shiv Sena (Uddhav Balasaheb Thackeray) and a man blowing a tura (trumpet) for the Nationalist Congress Party-Sharadchandra Pawar.

"Social media outreach will be an important strategy this time," the leader adds.

Meanwhile, at the Dadar, north central Mumbai, office of the party's rival faction, led by Eknath Shinde, pamphlets are stacked up and ready to be distributed.

Party workers say most of the planning, management and strategy around campaign material has been centralised.

The core party leadership has taken on the task of streamlining vendor management, ordering campaign material and choosing the medium for outreach.

Unlike local body elections, it is the leadership that is deciding everything, says a party worker from the Raj Thackeray-led Maharashtra Navnirman Sena.

New Delhi: Easy-on-the-ear election?

The wholesale markets of New Delhi, which would ordinarily be busy selling poll-related merchandise ahead of a national election, are also missing the frenzied activity this time round.

"Sadar Bazaar, despite being one of the largest wholesale markets of Asia, has seen fewer orders," says Manoj Kumar of Garg Enterprises, which deals in merchandise.

The BJP, which is expected to place huge orders, is bringing campaign material from Gujarat, he adds.

"A handful of traders are getting orders for 50,000-plus flags, but small traders are being ignored," he says.

The merchandise with "Ab ki baar, 400 paar" is in huge demand, says Gulshan Khurana, another trader from Sadar Bazaar.

"We are focusing on the BJP. For other parties, we are manufacturing only after getting an order," Khurana says.

The Bahujan Samaj Party and Aam Aadmi Party, he adds, have placed some orders. For Congress merchandise, though, there isn't much demand yet, he says.

At the nearby Bhagirath electronic market, one of the largest for audio systems, loudspeakers and amplifiers, the view is that this election will be easier on the ears than the last one.

"Earlier, six to eight amplifiers would be installed on every rickshaw. This year, we have hardly seen that trend," says the owner of Elco Sound Equipment.

"Rules related to amplifiers have become stringent over the years. Also, the election excitement is yet to begin," he adds.

Another trader says given the rising temperatures, it would be tough to have afternoon roadshows in Delhi.

The centralised approach adopted by political parties to organise events has also affected the tent industry. There is, however, hope that business will pick up.

"Delhi will see voting in the sixth phase, on May 25. So, the rally buzz is yet to begin," says the proprietor of Decent Decorators & Caterers, a west Delhi-based tent provider.

IMAGE: An artist in Kolkata, April 1, 2024, makes the Trinamool Congress symbol. Photograph: ANI Photo

Kolkata: A long-drawn affair

Pageya Patty in Burrabazar is a riot of colour -- saffron, red, orange and green.

Shops selling election paraphernalia at this patty (market) enthusiastically welcome every potential customer. However, given the long election, the shops are just about warming up to the poll season.

"Right now, people are just coming in to take the quotations, but we have already ordered the fabric," says Ravi Shankar, a shopkeeper.

IMAGE: Vendors sell flags of various political parties at a shop in Kolkata, March 16, 2024. Photograph: ANI Photo

Party flags are in full display in almost all the stores dealing in election material.

Masks of BJP leader Narendra Modi, Trinamool Congress chief Mamata Banerjee and its general secretary Abhishek Banerjee are also visible.

The Trinamool has a visible edge in the merchandise here. "It's a little dull right now because this time the election is spread over such a long period," says Rohit Gupta of Novelty Traders. He expects business to pick up soon.

Not everyone, though, is unhappy about the long-drawn-out election.

Says Sanjay Chandarana, whose family has been in this business for over 70 years, "If the election is held over a shorter span of time, then sometimes it becomes difficult for us to (even) have lunch or dinner."

Feature Presentation: Ashish Narsale/

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Ajinkya Kawale, Anushka Bhardwaj, Ishita Ayan Dutt & Ramveer Singh Gurjar
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India Votes 2024

India Votes 2024