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On counting day, scenes from a political merchandise store

On vote counting day, you expect a mad rush of party supporters, scrambling to get their hands on party flags, scarves, caps, T-shirts, badges, placards and garlands.
Last Updated : 05 June 2024, 04:33 IST
Last Updated : 05 June 2024, 04:33 IST
Last Updated : 05 June 2024, 04:33 IST
Last Updated : 05 June 2024, 04:33 IST

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It’s 11 am. Five minutes into our interview, Anil Munoth gets a call. “We don’t have TDP flags at the Bengaluru branch,” he tells the caller. An hour later, when our interview is drawing to a close, his phone rings again. The caller needs 100 Congress flags. “Okay, send the Dunzo (person) over,” he says.

We are sitting inside Rushabh Enterprises off Rashtriya Vidyalaya Road, near Minerva Circle. On vote counting day, you expect a mad rush of party supporters, scrambling to get their hands on party flags, scarves, caps, T-shirts, badges, placards and garlands.

Company, religious flags

But June 4 has been a quiet day so far. “Parties buy these things in bulk when election dates are announced,” explains Anil, who represents the third generation of the family which has been in the business since 1954. As it grew, the business expanded to manufacturing religious, sports and company flags as well. He and his three brothers helm the pan-India business with multiple branches.

The siblings had to diversify because of changing times. “Earlier, elections were a festival of democracy. Political flags and buntings used to be plastered on autos and street walls. Now, with digital campaigns becoming popular, the demand for merchandise has come down slightly. Also, the Election Commission of India has put a cap on poll spending,” explains the 45-year-old.

Yet, when the polling dates were announced in March, the enterprise was swamped with orders. They were dispatching up to two lakh pieces of flags, scarves and caps just to one political party. By the time they disconnected a call for an order, “a Porter truck” would arrive at their doorstep.

“Workers from different parties bargained at our counter side by side. A few times it got so chaotic that we sent a Congress order to BJP and vice versa,” Anil’s 24-year-old nephew Hriday recalls. The party workers didn’t mind the mix-up. Anil is reminded of another story of political camaraderie: “Once, a politician came to pick up not only his merchandise but also his opponent’s. The opponent was his best friend.”

Wallet factor

They have flags priced between Rs 10 and Rs 500, scarves between Rs 6 and Rs 250 and caps between Rs 10 and Rs 50. This year, caps flew off the shelves because of the “heat”. The cheaper varieties sell the most. “Getting money out of political parties is difficult,” Anil says, with a big laugh.

He has more to share. “If a politician or his right hand man talks less, it is a sign we will get our money (without any hassle). But it’s the politicians who are too polite who tend to default,” says Anil. Sometimes, political parties make amends for their dues by giving them orders in the future. “Otherwise, we send reminders to their PAs. They make the same excuses: ‘Sir is in Delhi. He is not well’.”

Changing loyalties

Then there is merchandise lying unclaimed in their godowns. “This happens when politicians change parties and no longer need the flags or scarves they ordered. Once, we were stuck with a consignment worth at least Rs 20 lakh,” he says.

The stocks become redundant also when parties evolve as in the case of mining baron G Janardhan Reddy’s Kalyana Rajya Pragathi Paksha (football symbol) merging with the BJP. Likewise, when B S Yeddyurappa’s Karnataka Janata Paksha (with the coconut symbol) merged with the BJP.

At their Bengaluru store, they have enough merchandise stocks for the BJP, Congress, and the JD(S). “We customise new designs only for independent candidates, printing 100-200 flags digitally,” he says.

By 4 pm, things change. “Now we are dispatching orders to the DMK in Tamil Nadu, the TDP in Andhra Pradesh, and the BJP in Chhattisgarh,” Anil says.

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Published 05 June 2024, 04:33 IST

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