“Saheb ka photo change kar do, unka munh khula dikh raha hai. Internet pe kai sare photo mil jayenge, koi achcha chun ke laga do. Slogan mein mistake hai, use durust kar do (Change saheb’s picture, his mouth is open. There are a lot of photos on the internet, choose a good one.
There is a mistake in the slogan, rectify it).” Abbas (name changed) notes down the instructions dictated to him on the phone by a National Conference worker from Jammu and Kashmir (J&K), and makes the changes on a poster featuring J&K Chief Minister Omar Abdullah. Once he is done, he sends the new image back to Srinagar on WhatsApp.
As the country gears up for general elections next month, Jamalpur, a Muslim-dominated area in old Ahmedabad, is a flurry of activity. The area has been supplying banners and other publicity material to political parties since 1989.
“Dilli me koi bhi kahin se jaye, wahan jhanda toh Jamalpur se hi le jana padta hai (Anybody can come to power in Delhi, but the flags are supplied from Jamalpur),” says Hamid, (name changed), a trader. Orders flow in from national parties such as BJP and Congress as well as regional parties such as Trinamool Congress and NC.
“The orders are pouring in from everywhere, but we are not able to meet the demand due to lack of manpower. Workers who went home for Holi haven’t returned as yet,” says Abbas, who has been in the business for the past 26 years. Till a few years back, Ahmedabad was the hub for printing banners and posters, but over the years, Hyderabad and Mathura have taken the lead, he says.
Printing exclusively for political parties is a niche market, which employs at least 2,500 people, most of them Muslims, and includes migrants from Bihar, Uttar Pradesh and Rajasthan. The business is dominated by Chhipa Muslims, a community known for its association with textile dyeing and processing. Said to have migrated from Rajasthan some 200 years ago, many of them still own dyeing units that had sprung up around mills, when Ahmedabad was a textile hub.
The Muslims here do not let politics come in the way of business. “Although I will keep condemning Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi, I don’t mind printing his party’s banners as long as it pays me,” says 30-year-old Imran Khan, a resident of Danilimda. His business involves cutting reams of printed posters, banners and flags to size.
Mostly represented by Chhipa Muslims, Jamalpur assembly seat saw a change in its political equation when it was merged with Khadia, a neighbourhood area, following delimitation before the assembly elections in 2012. Khadia was a saffron stronghold, home to the late BJP leader and state minister, Ashok Bhatt.
In the last assembly elections, the Jamalpur-Khadia assembly seat went to Bhatt’s son Bhushan. The Jamalpur-Khadia Lok Sabha seat is a reserved seat that falls in Ahmedabad West. Last time, BJP’s Kirit Solanki won the LS seat. He is contesting again against Congress’s Ishwar Makwana.
For hundreds of families here, elections are a means of livelihood. Sofia Sheikh’s one-bedroom house in Dudhwali Chali, Behrampura, is stacked with colourful flags and banners. The 50-year-old stitches flags and banners for roughly eight months a year, but still does not recognise a lot of the symbols. “There is no work for the remaining four months,” she says.
“Our best days are gone. After Seshan (former chief election commissioner TN Seshan) made the election code of conduct strict, they started keeping a close watch on candidates’ total expenses, affecting our business.
Ab elections ka rang feeka ho gaya hai. Pehle har gali-nukkad pe rang birange posters hote the (Elections are not a bright affair anymore. Earlier, every nook and corner had colourful posters),” says Abbas.
But Jamalpur still figures prominently on the flag map. This time around, there are orders from J&K, West Bengal, Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra, Punjab, Haryana, Jharkhand, among other states. n