In Varanasi, weavers say they do not dislike Narendra Modi, but if he personally seeks their vote they will ask him to come with a secular image.
Of over 16 lakh voters in this constituency, over three lakh are Muslim and 80 per cent of them are poor weavers. ‘Sardaar’ of 12 mohallas Mohammed Hashim, who is a seventh generation weaver, says, “If Modi projects himself as a secular leader, we will definitely vote for him.”
Lalla Pura locality is one of 52 inhabited by weavers. Idrish Ansari, who heads a group of weavers here, says, “We are real messengers of communal harmony as raw material and instruments for looms are generally sold by Hindus, most of the weavers are Muslims, traders of Benarasi sarees are a mix of Hindus and Muslims, and most buyers are Hindus.”
Weavers say they can vote for any party and any candidate who looks after their interest. They say their wages are lower than those for MNREGA.
Mohammed Basheer says, “After working 8 to 10 hours daily I earn Rs 100 to 125 a day. Electricity is rarely available.” He works with his four brothers in a handloom and the family has 21 children, none of them having cleared Class X. “The children too help us in the work.”
Varanasi has around 1.50 lakh powerlooms and though the number of handlooms is depleting fast, there still remain around 40,000. The state and central governments had promised waving electricity bills and giving subsidy and purchasing handloom products directly, but none of that was fulfilled, they allege.
Over two decades, handlooms were purchased by the state government and sold by UPICA Handloom, but this has now stopped. Wahid Ansari of Rewari Talab says, “Weavers only get Rs 300-400 for a handloom saree, but the market price is no less than Rs. 2,000. It take four days to weave a saree.”