Andhra Pradesh poll season promises extra earnings for many

The election season is a time of financial opportunity for many. Harish Gilai sheds light on how ingenuity and adaptability take centre stage

Updated - March 22, 2024 10:30 am IST

Published - March 22, 2024 08:26 am IST

Campaign vehicles being fabricated at a workshop in Auto Nagar, Visakhapatnam, ahead of the Lok Sabha polls; (below) a customised vehicle with a mounted LED screen deployed at Maddilapalem for election campaigning in Visakhapatnam.

Campaign vehicles being fabricated at a workshop in Auto Nagar, Visakhapatnam, ahead of the Lok Sabha polls; (below) a customised vehicle with a mounted LED screen deployed at Maddilapalem for election campaigning in Visakhapatnam. | Photo Credit: V. Raju

As the pulse of political activity quickens ahead of the Lok Sabha elections, 35-year-old Chintala Arjun quietly toils away in a garage at Auto Nagar near Gajuwaka in Visakhapatnam, Andhra Pradesh. He meticulously converts high-end SUVs into election campaigning vehicles, adding open-top stands and installing sound systems, lights and other accessories.

“I usually make ₹10,000 to ₹15,000 a month. However, for working on campaigning vehicles, I earn around ₹30,000 for each,” says a beaming Arjun, adding, “The elections are a big boost to our business. I am working round the clock to complete the orders within a week.”

The skillset of people like Arjun is in high demand as parties vie for attention on the campaign trail. Over the past few weeks, he has worked on more than a dozen vehicles for leaders of the ruling YSR Congress Party (YSRCP), Telugu Desam Party (TDP) and its ally, the Jana Sena Party (JSP).

Arjun is one of the 15 workers employed by J. Srinivas, owner of SV Engineering Works at Auto Nagar, who has over 20 orders for customised vehicles. Some of the workers hail from Bihar and Uttar Pradesh, and specialise in modifying vehicles.

“Typically, we specialise in customising food trucks. But since the previous election season, we ventured into the business of customising campaign vehicles,” explains Srinivas. “During the 2019 elections, we customised around 40 vehicles, each of which is designed to comfortably accommodate 25 to 30 people. The price ranges between ₹3.5 lakh and ₹6 lakh per vehicle, depending on the quality of speakers, generator and lights used,” he adds.

Currently, Srinivas is busy designing campaign vehicles for local MPs and MLAs. Alongside, he has undertaken a project to design a bus for an MP. In the run-up to the 2019 elections, he had modified a ‘bus caravan’, which was used by senior Congress leader Rahul Gandhi for his campaigning in Andhra Pradesh. The price for customised buses ranges from ₹6 lakh to ₹20 lakh.

Hopping on the bandwagon

The trend of deploying unique campaigning vehicles started in Andhra Pradesh during the 1980s by former chief minister and TDP founder N.T. Rama Rao, says senior political analyst P. Adinarayana Reddy. He toured the entire state on a bus christened ‘Chaitanya Radham’.

Former Chief Ministers N. Chandrababu Naidu and Y.S. Rajasekhar Reddy also organised several bus yatras and toured the State in customised buses. Recently, JSP president K. Pawan Kalyan’s Statewide campaign ‘Varahi Yatra’ was named after his customised bullet-proof vehicle, Varahi, resembling a military armoured truck.

“These vehicles, at times referred to as chariots, play a prominent role during elections. These days, we see everyone, right from corporators to MP candidates, getting vehicles specially designed and those are treated as their first step to success,” Mr. Reddy adds.

Seizing the opportunity

The election season presents diverse opportunities to many seeking to make a little extra money on the side. During this time, the Road Transport Authority (RTA) typically pools vehicles including cars, taxis, auto-rickshaws, and even mini-buses from every district for election duties. The government offers a package to those who lend their vehicles for poll purposes, in addition to covering fuel expenses. Local cab drivers eagerly await the government’s notification for elections, as it opens up avenues for supplementary income.

“Generally, during summer, tourist turnout is low but with elections round the corner, we will have work for several weeks,” says 40-year-old Kanaka Raju, a cab driver from the city.

N. Murali, who has been working as a driver for over 15 years in Gajuwaka, echoes Raju’s thoughts: “Local corporators and leaders will book cabs for days or weeks on end for election-related activity. Thanks to the intervention of our corporator, around 10 of us have been hired for the local MLA candidate’s election campaign over the next two months. They have agreed to pay good wages, apart from promising to reimburse fuel charges.”

Palla Ashok, a senior political analyst, says, “Election season come in handy for small-scale businesses and vendors. Many workers and daily wage labourers are also taken out for election campaigning and public meetings by the leaders, for which they are paid daily expenses, covering food and travel costs. They take it as an opportunity to earn and save some money. And this is not new.”

Pothina Krishna, an auto-rickshaw driver hailing from Kapparada area of Visakhapatnam city, has recently taken on an additional role working for a local political representative for the next few weeks. His duties entail outfitting his vehicle with loudspeakers provided by the leader, driving through residential areas within the constituency to advocate for the party’s candidate, and distributing pamphlets to residents. For this, Krishna is compensated ₹4,000 every day for his efforts, along with coverage for fuel expenses and lunch.

For this election, several candidates are opting for small pickup trucks equipped with LED screens, deployed throughout the constituencies for video-based campaigning. These trucks display party ads, promotional videos, and updates on ongoing campaigns within the community. They are commonly spotted at public places such as Beach Road, Tenneti Park, Maddilapalem, MVP Colony, China Waltair, Peda Waltair, and others. The drivers of these campaign vehicles charge ₹8,500 per day, in addition to fuel costs.

There’s something for everyone

The election season also presents a myriad of employment opportunities for workers in printing presses, women’s self-help groups and tailors. These groups are typically engaged in printing pamphlets, manufacturing T-shirts and caps adorned with party symbols or logos, all of which are used in rallies, public gatherings, and various campaign activities. While some units depend on orders, others actively market themselves to political leaders, secure advance orders, and supply bulk quantities as needed.

Manufacturing units offer a range of prices for party flags, from ₹5 to ₹200. T-shirts are available for ₹100 to ₹600, while caps are priced between ₹50 and ₹200. The variation in prices is determined by the quality, with party leaders having the discretion to choose quality standards. Further, prices may fluctuate depending on the quantity ordered in bulk. Some units specialise in producing decorative items such as plastic flower garlands, which are commonly used to embellish party offices, houses and stages.

Among these manufacturing units, Sridevi Printing Press stands out as a venerable institution with a four-decade legacy, situated in Machavaram near Vijayawada. Renowned for producing political party flags, T-shirts, and caps, the press has geared up its production capacity this year in anticipation of heightened demand in the upcoming weeks.

“We manufacture these products throughout the year as public meetings and rallies occur regularly for various purposes. However, the quantity is usually small. But with the election season underway, we’ve increased production by about 10%, hiring additional manpower to meet the expected demand,” says G. Satish of Sridevi Printing Press.

“This year, demand has been relatively low, as some parties have yet to finalise their list of candidates. Additionally, there’s a significant gap between the election notification and the nomination process,” he adds.

Moolah out of promotions

Another section of the printing press is occupied with delivering flexis, banners, and cut-outs for political party leaders. Despite the implementation of the election code, candidates are actively seeking decorative flexis and cut-outs to promote themselves in their respective wards and colonies. These banners and flexis have become highly sought-after by party leaders.

“Until last week, the demand was quite good, with three different political parties organising meetings and road shows, competing with each other,” explains Ch. Rajesh, a flexi maker from the city who prefers not to disclose his store’s name due to the model code of conduct. “Since the code is now in effect, we expect business to slow down over the next two weeks, but we anticipate it will pick up again once the nomination process begins.”

He also observes a trend among party leaders favouring plastic flexis over environmentally-friendly ones made of cloth. Rajesh says that plastic flexis offer a glossy appearance, durability, and are more cost-effective compared to their cloth counterparts. The flexis available in his store are priced between ₹300 and ₹10,000, catering to various budget preferences.

Gopal Rao, who operates from Arilova, recently launched a catering business but faces challenges in promoting it due to limited resources. Operating from a modest asbestos-roof shed, his small-scale unit consists of a team of five workers, including three women. With the impending elections, Gopal has been approached by a political leader from his constituency, expressing interest in hiring his services to provide meals to party workers.

“The party leader has sampled our food, and we are hopeful of securing the contract. If successful, it will be a significant boost for us. Our team is committed to delivering high-quality food to impress the workers and potentially expand our business,” he says, emphasising that they specialise in non-vegetarian dishes.

Sheikh Ahmed, a 25-year-old resident of Lawsons Bay who holds a degree in photo journalism, secured a project as special photographer for an MLA candidate in the city and was offered a promising package. He dedicated himself to the role for four days, but his employment abruptly ended when the MLA candidate he was associated with was replaced, resulting in the loss of his job. Despite this setback, Ahmed remains optimistic, believing he can seize similar opportunities during the ongoing election season.

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