Behind lull at Jaipur’s poll merchandise hub: ‘Shift to phone’, EC vigil, ‘no money’ for Cong

Printers in the city estimate that manufacturing of poll merchandise has gone down by at least 80% as parties have moved to digital campaigns.

The Lok Sabha elections are just days away in Rajasthan, but unlike previous polls, the streets in the capital Jaipur are denuded of campaign material. Except Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s face on hoardings at crucial junctions.

It’s no different at Jaipur’s printing industry hub – the Bais Godam industrial area. During elections, this area would usually throb with the whir of the printing presses – around 125 in total. But they have guzzled up less ink and materials in the poll run-up this time.

It wasn't too long ago that Jaipur’s streets and walls used to be adorned with flyers, posters and wraps promoting all major contestants. However, the campaign has gradually shifted from “the street to the phone” over the last few years.

Printing press owners blame this largely on digital campaigns, social media influencers and a strict vigil by the Election Commission of India.

But where is the money?

In the 2014 Lok Sabha polls, the central BJP and Congress incurred Rs 14.61 crore and Rs 11.32 crore on “publicity materials” including banners, posters, hoardings, flags, stickers, pamphlets, caps, t-shirts etc. 

In 2019, it was Rs 46.52 crore for the Congress and Rs 25.40 crore for the BJP, shows the expenditure reports on the Election Commission of India’s website. In the same elections, “publicity material” constituted only 3.36 percent of the total “general party propaganda expenditure” for the BJP and 9.51 percent for the Congress. The lion’s share went to media ads, bulk SMS and pre-recorded calls: 72.81 percent of the total for the Congress and 43.09 percent for the BJP.  

Loss of business to Jaipur printers

Bhimraj Sharma, vice-president of The Rajasthan Offset Printers’ Association, said that the Lok Sabha election would bring at least Rs 50 crore, and assembly polls Rs 100 crore, in business to the industry at Bais Godam – the two elections are usually held within a gap of six months in the state.

However, estimating that printing has gone down by 80 percent since 2019, he now showed several WhatsApp groups of the BJP with digital posters on his phone. “Everything has moved to the mobile phone… Overall, the printing business is shrinking. Until 2019, factories would keep one press free for publishing pamphlets, stickers and posters and double their labour pool. This is not the case anymore,” he said.

Alok Khandelwal of Alok Printers earned Rs 1.5 crore during the Lok Sabha and assembly polls in 2018 and 2019. “This time, it has gone down to Rs 8 lakh,” he said.

Raju Khandelwal of Sakshi Printers also agreed with Sharma. “During elections, we would not have time to speak with the media,” he said, adding that the printing presses are now “idle”. “There used to be a huge demand for the raw material… Party campaigns on social media have affected the printing industry.”

According to local reports, the BJP has roped in around 1,500 social media influencers. In March this year, Prime Minister Narendra Modi had awarded digital content creators in the inaugural National Creators Award. Most of the awardees are pro-BJP. An investigation by the Reporters’ Collective earlier underlined how the BJP has used Facebook for surrogate campaigning

The BJP also employs its WhatsApp machinery during elections. In Rajasthan alone, it had 38,000 WhatsApp groups during the assembly polls in November last year.   

Sharma also pointed to another reason for loss of business – vigilance by the Election Commission of India on wall defacement. “Now, you need permission to stick posters on walls. Parties and candidates don’t want any run-in with the election commission.”

The EC is quick to resolve any poll code-related violations. Until last month, the poll panel had received 79,000 complaints on its cVigil app, launched last year. Around 3 percent were related to defacement of properties, and as many as 89 percent of the total complaints were resolved within 100 minutes.

However, election commission sources said that flying squad members of the poll panel could sometimes be overzealous. An election official alleged that flying squad members themselves upload complaints on the app meant for public complaints and remove them within five minutes to appear as efficient before senior officials.

BJP campaign preparedness, from choppers to ball pens

When Newslaundry visited the Rajasthan BJP headquarters last weekend, state party treasurer Anil Sisodiya was a busy man. Engaging with all kinds of vendors, from those for helicopters to others for media ads and pamphlets etc, he discussed the rates and eventually settled for the lowest bidder. 

“I am in charge of around 80 percent of the (state) campaign from media ads to banners to hoardings to social media… We drew up campaign strategy as soon as the model code of conduct was in place (March 15),” he said.

The logistical needs for a well-oiled campaign requires him to be a hard taskmaster. 

When a vendor for stickers and pamphlets could not supply the order by the party deadline, Sisodiya earlier refused to take the order. “Either you keep the material at home or donate it to the party. I can’t accept it now despite giving you an extra day,” he told a printing vendor.

Rajasthan will vote for 25 seats in two phases: on April 19 and 26. “So far, we have distributed almost all campaign materials from flags, caps, stickers to pamphlets to all districts,” said Sisodiya, after discussing inventories of campaign material at the party godown with two BJP leaders – Rajesh Tambi and Manoj Sharma.

For Congress, 'no money'

While the BJP office was teeming with vendors, the Congress’s was locked on the same day.

Newslaundry did not come across any hoardings showcasing Congress leaders or the party symbol at Jaipur’s prominent spots – the party office had some.

Congress spokesperson Swarnim Chaturvedi attributed it to the freezing of the party’s accounts by the income tax department.

“Soon, we will receive pamphlets on our guarantees and other material from Delhi,” he said.

Meanwhile, Vishnu Agarwal of Chagan Lal and Sons, which supplies flags, buntings and flex boards to the parties in Jaipur, claimed that the Congress had cancelled two orders he had received – a party leader said a “lack” of funds was the reason.

“My brother has gone to the Congress a few times for orders. But it seems they don’t have money.”

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