Constituency watch: Madhya Pradesh

Elections may spread a rich tapestry of excitement everywhere but not in this traditional weavers’ town off Jhansi. Here life hangs by a thread, as the market has fallen for the textiles that the town is famous for.

People here say they will vote out of duty, and not because they have any demands of, or expectations from, any party or candidate.

“We have forgotten to make demands now. We are tired of asking. No one listens to us — no one has for years,” says Jagdish Banpuria, a weaver with a stint in politics some years ago.

The town used to supply textiles to the defence forces and had a huge market in Mumbai. But Mauranipur, also known as mini-Bombay, is now struggling to protect its weavers who have fallen into bad times. Thousands of them have migrated to Gujarat, Maharashtra and other States to work as labourers; the younger, educated lot do not want to learn weaving because the skill does not earn them enough.

“All we have been asking for is a sales centre for the textiles made here so that weavers can sell their products at a minimum support price and talent and industry will not die,” Mr. Banpuria says.

These are the only demands the voters here have been making since their craft fell on bad days in 1995. At that time, the town had 25,000-30,000 weavers. Half of them have migrated to other States because of the falling demand for their product.

“There was a time when on Mondays and Tuesdays, Army trucks would pick up quality textiles from the local market. The remaining was bought by middlemen or merchants from Bombay,” recalls Suresh, who just sells yarn now. Now the town has just 4,000-5,000 handlooms and 8,000 powerlooms running.

Those who own the looms have to hire weavers from outside on daily wages. Now the town has turned into mostly a trading centre of yarn from Mumbai and adjoining towns for buyers from across Madhya Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh.

“There is no market for textiles now, and the minimum support price and sales centre will ensure that the weaver is protected and there is a market for his product,” Mr. Suresh says.

The Uttar Pradesh government has announced incentives such as power subsidy and funds for cooperative societies but smaller weavers allege the money often goes to influential people.

A sales centre will not only give a new lease of life to weavers here but also encourage migrants to return to their roots.