Covid kills election business


These are their six meters of hope – sarees with digitally printed three-dimensional images of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh Yogi Adityanath, all ready and waiting for buyers from Uttar Pradesh in times electoral. But apart from an expression of positive intent from buyers, there has been no order from the country’s most politically crucial state to vote in seven phases between February 10 and March 7. The success of this potential business transaction is the revival of Sura Textile Market, one of the oldest and best-known centers of synthetic fabrics in India. Bulk order will mean money for auxiliary business.

Like every other market across the country, the Covid-19 shutdowns and ensuing restrictions have led to a huge drop in its revenue, the closure of many stores and the loss of livelihoods. With the election commission banning physical rallies and campaigning in the election-related states of Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Punjab, Manipur and Goa, there has been a drastic drop in demand for publicity materials electoral. Considering this, every response received for “Modi-Yogi Printed Sarees” is seen as a beacon of hope for these traders.

Sellers see UP polls — one of the nation’s largest election markets — as a boost to revive a beleaguered market. More than 60% of Surat residents are connected in one way or another to the textile market. Although election materials come from this market to most other election-related states in the country, UP is their biggest buyer. “If we manage to make a good sale, at least with the sarees, some of our workers will be able to eat two meals a day for a while,” one of the traders told Outlook.

Surat market, with very competitive prices, is also the largest manufacturer of election advertising materials, such as caps, badges, mufflers, t-shirts, scarves, bags, purses, shirts, etc., all personalized to meet the needs of each party. Initially, the market saw a dominance of articles related to Congress, BJP, Bahujan Samaj Party and Samajwadi Party. New additions include the Aam Aadmi Party, the Trinamool Congress and the NCP. Promotional materials for small parties are made to order and are not available in regular stock.

Panoramic to Delhi’s Sadar Bazaar, 1,150 km from Surat and the other place where political parties flock to buy campaign paraphernalia. With Delhi’s ruling Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) contesting in four of the five polling states, traders were expecting good business here too. “We were hoping the party would order publicity material for Uttarakhand, Punjab and other places. (But) there are no orders and the market is deserted. Unless sales pick up, it will be a very bleak year for us,” says Vikram Singh, a shopkeeper whose store had good business in Lok Sabha polls in 2019. “We are not even able to repay our loans that we regularly take out for our business,” he adds.

A similar pensive mood also enveloped traders in Mumbai. Atul Bhor, owner of Madhuban Creations, formerly located in the Lalbaug district of the city, was always excited when elections approached, whether municipal, general or assembly polls. The store provided election materials – t-shirts, flags, scarves, badges, etc. – in Goa and other parts of Maharashtra during the elections. Bulk orders from political parties meant adhering to a tight schedule. This year, despite the elections in Goa, Bhor received no bulk orders except for a small order from BJP for flagpoles. “Because of Covid, I suffered business losses and closed the Lalbaug store. Without campaigning, we find ourselves without work during this peak election period,” Bhor said. Outlook. He has now settled in Pune and has a shop in Shaniwar Peth.

Photos: Getty Images

However, there is good news for the electronics and transportation sectors, as the surge of digital-focused advertising campaigns has accelerated in states around election time. “We received a good response from Goa for LED screen vans, rickshaw side panel advertisements and buses. Orders are coming from all political parties and we have a tight schedule as they all want them for the same period,” says Sanjeev Gupta, managing director of Mumbai-based Global Advertisers, which specializes in outdoor advertising. The minimum price for a van equipped with LED screens is Rs 7,000 for one day.

With an overload of BJP and AAP bookings, there is a shortage of these digital signage vans. “We are asking traders in electronics markets across the country to meet the demand for LED display screens. Engaging carriers is also a function we manage. Basically, everyone is stocking up here and there. It’s a boom time for this market, but only for a short time. As many traders are involved in the supply, profits will be split,” a source said. “Congress doesn’t spend much on these vans except in Punjab.”

Surat-based Goyal Enterprises, which has been in existence for more than 25 years, is one of the country’s largest suppliers of election advertising material. Although it primarily caters to the BJP and Congress, its new clients include TMC, AAP and NCP. Their satin political sarees with digital prints, tailored to party needs, have been very popular in the past, with the 2019 Lok Sabha elections being the peak period of demand. Owner Prateek Goyal says Covid restrictions have hit business hard. “There is no campaign. So the products are not selling online either. Some orders have arrived but we are unable to fulfill them due to Covid.” The labor shortage Work is also hampering work in factories in Surat, as most of the workers – unskilled and from Bihar, UP, Maharashtra and Odisha – had returned to their states during the first Covid lockdown. Only a fraction have returned.” Even incoming orders cannot be fulfilled due to this shortage and the Covid situation,” adds Goyal.

The Yuva Textile Brigade, a group of young textile traders from Surat, even held back mass production of its bestseller in the 2014 Lok Sabha polls – sarees with printed photographs of then-candidate Modi. Prime Minister. Although they have received inquiries for the upcoming polls, there is not much buying for the sarees priced at Rs 600 each. “Political parties including the BJP don’t want to spend so much money on these sarees because there are no physical gatherings,” a trader says.

In Goa, where polls have always been a colorful and boisterous affair, there is hardly any evidence of an upcoming election this time around. “Covid has made hectic campaigns a thing of the past. Without the campaign noise, it doesn’t feel like an election,” says Nupura Hautamaki, an events and marketing consultant based in the village of Guirim in North Goa. “There are a lot of banners and flags hanging from the poles. That’s all. Jeeps make announcements, shopkeepers and handcart vendors put festive stickers on their shops and carts. It’s more of a word-of-mouth campaign,” she adds. As campaigns go digital, political parties are spending many hours on social media. There are active and intense discussions on social media regarding various issues, party policies, candidates in the fray, etc. However, these live interactions cannot replace mega political rallies and the deafening noise of physical campaigning, say supporters who cross party lines.

In another poll-linked state of Uttarakhand, BJP foot soldier Umesh Singh recalls the days when he campaigned until the wee hours of the morning and had an unlimited supply of campaign materials to woo voters. voters. “There was excitement then. We would work as if we were possessed. It was like a huge fair, with flags and banners on every pole and building. This time it is hard to get motivated to go door-to-door,” says Singh, a resident of Bhatyuna village in Pithoragarh district. He admits that the din of the campaign gave the adrenaline rush to meet deadlines and reach as many homes as possible. Generally, campaigning in the hilly regions of Uttarakhand is difficult. The past few days have also seen rain, snowfall, and freezing cold weather, making door-to-door trail access difficult. “Previously, we were never deterred by bad weather, we campaigned in worse weather conditions. The physical campaign had that effect. There would be street vendors selling food and hot tea,” Singh explains.

Previously, the streets were full of election advertising material, bought by party supporters. With no such paraphernalia on sale during these elections, Singh and his friends struggled to source the materials. Other than a few flags and scarves with the lotus symbol on them, they refrained from buying anything else. “There are no big leaders visiting constituencies. Even heads of state don’t visit. Candidates are on their own,” Singh adds.

In states like Goa, where 24 out of 40 MPs defected to other parties, a physical campaign would have helped place candidates in their new parties. “Now we don’t even know who the candidates are,” Hautamaki says.

(This appeared in the print edition as “Sari, No Business!”)

Haima Deshpande in Bombay


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