Sanatan Nayak, a construction worker from Ganjam in Odisha, understands nothing about Andhra Pradesh politics. But he is a regular participant at poll rallies of almost all parties.
There are many like him — regulars at political rallies in Andhra Pradesh, which is witnessing a shrill battle in campaigning for the State Assembly as well as Lok Sabha elections, with polling slated for April 11. The reason is interesting: locals are no longer attending the mega rallies of top leaders in big numbers.
“This has created a new earning opportunity for immigrants from the neighbouring States of Odisha and Telangana who do not have regular incomes,” M Sattanna, a labour contractor-turned ‘crowd supplier’, told BusinessLine at Ibrahimpatnam, in Krishna district.
He is among over a dozen contractors who are now helping local politicians mobilise crowds for public meetings, mainly in and around Amaravati, the State capital region.
Language is no barrier. “We have been asked to clap and wave the flags of the party that hires us,” he said in Hindi.
The crowd contractors operate in close association with local political leaders — cutting across parties — and schedule the attendance of people at meetings.
In the Mangalagiri-Guntur region, at least 300 to 500 ‘participants’ are available within a notice period of 10 hours.
“What is wrong in this? Paying for people in election rallies is an open secret. The only difference now is we are arranging people from different regions,” said M Koteshwara Rao, a ‘team-lead’ for a group that has arrived from Telangana’s Khammam district, now camping for gainful employment in the Andhra Pradesh polls.
The crowd, of course, comes at a price. If top leaders of major parties happen to campaign at a location on the same day, the cost per person goes up to as much as ₹1,500, inclusive of travel, water and food.
“We are farm labourers from Suryapet (Telangana) and are looking for work. A person we know from Nandigama informed us of the earning opportunity and we are here,” G Devender, who has landed here along with four family members, told BusinessLine . The “hired supporters” are housed either at rented halls, or in tents pitched in open fields close to Amaravati. An attempt by this writer to photograph a ‘camp’ was not allowed by the security personnel.
Immigrant workers from Bihar, employed in the construction projects of Amaravati, are also chipping in, moonlighting in their free time at poll rallies.
Two major regional parties and two national parties are frequently ‘sourcing’ supporters, while one new party depends solely on willing participants, according to locals.
It remains to be seen if all these tactics will sway Andhra Pradesh’s voters on polling day.