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Struggling with the onslaught of big firms

Mohammad Ali
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With Lok Sabha elections round the corner, families are busy preparing flags and other poll paraphernalia in the by-lanes of Sadar Bazaar in Delhi.– PHOTO: Meeta Ahlawat
With Lok Sabha elections round the corner, families are busy preparing flags and other poll paraphernalia in the by-lanes of Sadar Bazaar in Delhi.– PHOTO: Meeta Ahlawat

Sitting amid hundreds of party flags with a smiling face of Bharatiya Janata Party prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi printed on them, Amina Khatoon is no volunteer. Neither does she have any idea who Mr. Modi is. All she knows is that she has to finish stitching 500 small “NaMo for PM” flags in a dingy room at Barah Tooti Chowk in the Walled City’s Sadar Bazaar.

Amina’s husband Abdur Rahman in the meanwhile waits for her to finish the flags so he can sell them in his shop.

The couple are among the few families traditionally in the business of making election paraphernalia like flags, banners, posters, caps, ribbon, pamphlets and metal badges.

But the situation was not this dismal a decade ago, points out Mr. Rahman, who is in his early 50s. Earlier, the couple and over 50 other families — almost all of them Muslim — used to make election paraphernalia on a much bigger scale and supply it to political parties directly.

Now just three of them are involved in the business at Barah Tooti Chowk. The scale of manufacturing has come down to just 10 per cent after they failed to counter the onslaught of big players who produced the materials in factories. Most families involved in the work have switched to manual labour or some other unorganised sector. “A decade ago, we used to employ a workforce of over a 100 people for producing election paraphernalia. There is so little work now that women do the stitching and colouring at home and we sell,” says the Rahman’s neighbour Mohammad Alam.

Sitting among stacks of billboards and flags of the BJP and the Congress in a small shop in the area, Mr. Rahman remembers the “good old days” of his childhood when his dad, a big businessman then, used to take him to Prime Minister Indira Gandhi’s residence.

“Big Congress leaders used to give my father a contract for manufacturing lakhs of posters, billboards and flags.”

Though the Rahmans and their ilk are indirectly an intrinsic part of the election process, they do not actually vote — disillusioned as they are with the existing political class.

“We have seen several elections, but none brought relief to us. Politicians get power through the election material we make for them, but still we stay on the margins, struggling with the onslaught of big companies,” says Mr. Alam.


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