Campaign tool traders cash in on election fever
It is election time once again in West Bengal and the traders dealing in campaign materials and tools are out to make some fast bucks.
Almost all political parties in the fray have placed their orders much before the announcement of the election dates to hit the campaign trail faster than others.
The shop of 55-year-old Ashis Sadhukan at Burrabazar is buzzing with activity these days as campaigners make a beeline haggling over prices of materials.
"My father started the business in late 70s. It is a profitable business during the poll time, whether it's municipal poll, Lok Sabha poll or Assembly poll," Sadhukan, who is in the business for three decades, said.
Campaign materials like vinyl box posters, flex, paper posters, cut-outs, banners, flags, handbills, kites, caps, pens and umbrellas printed with party symbols are the top draws among the parties.
The traders are finding it difficult to cope with the flow of orders, which, they say, are still pouring in.
Do they show any preference for the "big daddies" of election - TMC, CPI-M or BJP? The answer is 'no'.
"For us all political parties are the same. They are our customers and we treat them equally. We charge the same rate for products irrespective of political parties and their clout," Sadhukan said.
Sadhukan said that one of the biggest attractions this time is flags carrying signs of both Congress (Hand) and CPI(M) (Sickle and hammer).
"As you everyday sees report of alliance between the CPI(M) and the Congress, so orders have been placed for flags and posters embossed with the emblems of the two parties," he said.
Just like Sadhukan, Biren Natto of Bowbazar who has been in this business for the last 17 years, has put up additional printing machines in his press to deal with the growing pressure of orders.
"Orders will increase once all the parties come out with their candidates list. It will speed up further with the first phase of nominations," Natto said.
The two said that they had received orders from the districts too - like those in Jangalmahal - which start the poll juggernaut on April 4.
Dhiren Sarkar, another trader on College Street, specially deals in pens and umbrellas with names of party candidates or party symbols embossed in them.
"Orders have started coming in since the last week of February. Once Holi is over, we expect to receive more orders from the districts," Sarkar said.
Though none of the traders is willing to speak on the profit margin, Sarkar said that prices of campaign materials had gone up sharply in the last few years.
"During the last Assembly elections, we sold flags for about Rs 10. Now it is nearly Rs 40-50 depending on the quality of cloth used," he said.
But Sarkar is wary of the shortage of manpower to cope with the rush of orders.
Most of the manpower comes from Jangalmahal, Birbhum and Bankura and since these areas go to poll early this time and their priority is to service the local candidates, their availability is a problem, he says.
The traders dealing in garments are also busy in the poll season delivering orders of T-shirts, caps, vests and even saris.
"On a daily basis, we have been receiving orders of an average 3,000 to 4,000 pieces of T-shirts, caps, vests, and saris. If the elections are held in summer the demand of caps, vests, umbrellas goes up considerably. We did good business in 2014 also. We hope to do well this time too," said Rajiv Singh of Burrabazar.
The umbrellas with logos of political parties are priced at Rs 150 to Rs 200, while saris nicknamed Congress sari' and the Trinamool sari' containing the twin flowers logo fetch anything between Rs 200 and Rs 250.
The story is nearly similar for those dealing in mikes and sound systems. With the ongoing board examinations and restrictions on the use of loudspeakers during campaigns, their business has taken a beating.