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Vote for Anil Bhai...

Anil Bhai is in the news. You may not have heard of him but ask Atal Bihari Vajpayee. Or Sonia Gandhi. The chances are most of their cut-outs, photos and other election material would have been supplied by this unassuming man from Sadar Bazaar, says SANJAY AUSTA.

Election material suppiler Anil Bhai in his shop at Sadar Bazar. Photo: S. Arneja.

A BEAMING Atal Bihari Vajpayee stands cheek by jowl next to Sonia Gandhi. While a waving Mayawati sits across from the imposing Mulayam Singh Yadav. Where else can you find such lasting bonhomie between rival Indian politicians other than at Anil Bhai Rakhiwalla's shop at Sadar Bazaar, the brisk commercial hub in Delhi. In this two-storey shop large and small cut-outs of almost all the politicians belonging to the different political affiliations woo the unseen voter. The cut-outs are however just one of many election materials stocked in this shop.

Anil Bhai has the distinction of catering to the election material needs of almost every regional and national party. His clients make over 30 regional and national parties around India. From the small two-rupee election slip to the expensive larger-than-life cut-outs of leaders, Anil Bhai has them all. Little wonder that he remains the undisputed biggest supplier and manufacturer of election campaign material in the country. His shop never shuts and he is in his shop from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. everyday.

And as the assembly elections to Delhi and few other State assemblies are round the corner, Anil Bhai is one of the busiest men in Sadar Bazaar. "I am only doing my bit for the society. Elections are a symbol of a democracy and as a manufacturer and supplier of election products I am just helping democracy," he says.

What makes him stand out among the other small manufacturers and suppliers is his speed at meeting emergency demands. "If some political party wants election banners to be made at a short notice they know whom to approach," says Anil Bhai.

His shop is crammed with campaign material that stares down at you from an array of shelves. The leaders of different political parties approach him when elections come up. However, he has no political affiliations. "I deal with political parties but am not zealous about any one of them," he says. Because of this apolitical stance his shop becomes a neutral ground where rival party members discuss each other's election campaigns. Sometimes the rival candidates themselves come to place orders and there is a good natured talk - a far cry from the mud-slinging that follows in the campaigns later.

Anil Bhai started his election material business in 1981 and found himself making a good packet. Election in India being sporadic at best of times, orders for campaigns material kept pouring. Before pursuing the election material business he made rakhis for a living and established himself so well in this work that he began to be know as Anil Bhai Rakhiwalla ever since.

Today, Anil Bhai has dealers in every State to whom he supplies his election stuff which is a paraphernalia of cut-outs, banners, stickers, balloons, pens, papers and plastic flowers, flags, handbags, purses key-chains, ribbons, volunteer and metal badges.

He knows all the politicians from the distant Tamil Nadu to Kashmir. "They are my clients so I have to keep tabs on them," he says. He is just as keen as any political worker to hear the election results. "I am naturally keen to know the prospects of my clients as losing and winning effects my payments," he says.

Keeping a dossier on politicians is helpful when some of them evade paying. "I have to chase some of them for payments. It is usually the losing candidates who turn defaulters," he says. Anil Bhai is reticent about the money each politician spends on his campaign but reluctantly agrees they exceed their legal quota many times over.

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