Cashing In On Poll
India’s ongoing ‘festival of democracy’ would cost a cool Rs 30,500 crore, if one were to go by the estimates of the Centre for Media Studies. If the figures are valid, it would make the current Lok Sabha election spending the second highest in the world – next only to what was spent in the US during the 2012 presidential run. In contrast, political parties and politicians spent just Rs10,167 crore during the last Lok Sabha elections.
So, which are the industries in Tamil Nadu that are going to rake in the moolah? That the State-owned Tasmac will be laughing all the way to the bank is a no-brainer – this is despite the fact that the Election Commission intends to play killjoy. You can safely expect liquor to flow close to election time to induce voters, despite the layers of curbs from the poll watchdog.
But not all traders and industries traditionally associated with election related products are expecting big business. Paraphernalia, such as flags, festoons, badges, caps, lockets, rings as also banners and billboards carrying images, photographs of politicos and candidates ought to be proliferating across every nook and cranny in the State, but that might be a tad lower this time around since the Big Brother is watching. For, the Election Commission intends to strictly go by the book and enforce the model code of conduct, which prescribes a ridiculously low cap for spending during electioneering.
Since election paraphernalia would be seen as part of the candidate’s expenditure, parties might want to rein it a bit. That would affect business, fear traders. Others are keeping their fingers crossed, hoping things would look up as polling date nears. After all, you can’t reach the voter without the paraphernalia, so parties could choose to carpet-bomb them close to the election date, they reason.
On the plus side, the Narendra Modi wave seems to have made traders selling flags in Tamil Nadu happy, more so because of the possible seat-sharing accord the BJP could strike with Vijayakant’s DMDK, Ramadoss’ PMK and Vaiko’s MDMK. Once done, it would become a strong alliance and the winability factor could generate money flows. No wonder, the flag traders expect huge orders from the NDA camp. Though the margin of profit in flags in low, the sector thrives on volumes.
“We’ve been getting inquiries on BJP-related materials like never before. The party was nowhere in the picture for over a decade. The NaMo factor has changed all that. In fact, now, the stock for BJP I have nearly equals that of AIADMK,” says Jayaraj, a flag trader in Parry’s Corner.
Orders for items like 3D cards, pens, lockets, rings with party symbols too have started trickling in – most of them from the southern districts as of now. Traders expect big volume sales around the first week of April. “For now, we expect smooth sales as we think EC will be liberal till March-end. The profit margin though might be lower because of various factors, including inflation. The input cost has gone up but all that cannot be passed on to the buyer,” says Lakshmi Narayanan, a wholesale trader at Parry’s Corner.
“Besides, the festoon business is seasonal, so we need to build up a huge inventory through investment. They are not products that can be produced in large quantities overnight since you won’t get enough manpower for doing so. Now that we have built up stock, we need to liquidate it even if we have to sell it at low cost,” he adds.
No political campaign or meeting is complete without digital banners. Elections are when parties try to grab voters’ eyeballs with massive flex boards and hoardings. That is an industry that should see humungous business. “If that is how it is going to be, we haven’t seen enough evidence of it yet,” say, graphic designers and printers, who produce the cost-effective, easy-to-make publicity material. During the last Lok Sabha elections in 2009, they did roaring business. The ‘festive sale’ that comes once in five years, is yet to begin, they contend.
“We usually get additional work right from the time of the announcement of the candidates when they would want to thank their party leaders for choosing them. We were all looking forward to it but the EC curbs have amounted to an indirect ban on our business,” says Sulaiman, the proprietor of Digital India, one of the leading printers of political banners.
There are close to one lakh flex and digital banner printers in the city and about three lakh across the State and another three lakh people dependant on these printers in fixing frames and scaffoldings.
The printers say the election code has not only ripped them of the opportunity to earn an extra buck but also spoilt their plans to repay loans, acquired to buy machinery, quickly. “I moved out of the magazine industry to start this business. Many of us depend on the sales to repay loans for the machinery. I have been in this business for the past 20 years and
seen three elections. This time, so far, we have not seen any additional sales. We worry it’s going to be dull,” says Kumar, who owns The Print Shop at Chintadripet.
Flex materials acquired popularity during the last decade mainly because of the cost and time factors. Now available for as low as `6 per sq ft, there was a time flex banners were limited to those with deep pockets as they cost `350 per sq ft when the product was first introduced. Thanks to China and their low-cost machines, prices have fallen. Today, these banners are used for anything and everything - be it birthday of a leader, public meeting or the death of a leader.
If flex and digital banner printers are grumbling, what about graffiti writers and cutout makers? They too say the elections would not perk up their already sagging business. “We are actually doing only 25 per cent of the business we did 15 years ago. Flex printers have already eaten up a large chunk of our business,” says M P Dhakshna, who is into film and political publicity work. It is perhaps the competition that has also made many artists, who have spent years learning to paint film stars and political leaders, move to other professions.
“I have been in the field for 20 years. Now, I have moved back to my hometown as I don’t get any business. Most artists like us have lost jobs and we are now limited to only painting number plates for vehicles,” says Raja, who once lived in Choolaimedu and has now moved back to his native Thiruvannamalai.
The hope for a poll-time tidy profit in the printing industry, one of the oldest in Sivakasi, which offered round-the-clock job to the people in thousands, is ebbing. Most colour posters pasted on wall across the country have Sivakasi imprint. But the EC has specified strict norms on pasting posters in public and private walls, which has hit the industry hard.
Further, the proliferation of desktop printing technology has affected the industry.
“People engaged with the printing industry in Sivakasi expected orders for mega wall posters and notices from across the political spectrum during election time. That was a decade ago. Now, it is no longer the case,” says A Dhanasekaran, managing director of Safire Offset Printing.
“The election season in the past was a bonus for us as it offered windfall profits. Companies used to run in multiple shifts to meet the target,” he recalls, saying that agents of political parties used to queue up at the printing industries once the election schedule was announced.
“A few years ago, even a small company received orders for 10,000 to 20, 000 wall posters. That dropped to 500 to 1000 wall posters during the last elections,” he says, adding that this was partly due to the stringent EC rules.
Normally, orders are placed a fortnight before the polls after parties select their candidates.
“But this time, the poll schedule was announced a month in advance. We expect orders only for pamphlets and notices during door-to-door campaigning,” he adds.