Friday, September 4, 2009

Now say it in neon upper case

This story on election materials was done during my stint with the Bangalore Mirror in 2008. As I used to pass this whole sale election material shop on a daily routine on way to office and home, I had decided when the elections days closes in I would do the story. The story was published in the BM pages on January 5th, 2008.

Elections normally mean so much white noise, festoons, banners and posters, much of it in such garish colours. It is not only so much gibberish but creates a whole lot of garbage as well. Imagine then, an Indian election with no garbage.

If Jeswanth and Bharat Jain have their way, Indian elections could look very different in the near future. As dealers in wholesale election material, they dream of doing away with the litter that is the inevitable aftermath of a political meeting or rally in our city.
“I saw the lights on Brigade Road during Deepawali and I was inspired to do something like that for our elections as well. After all, elections are festivals of democracy and why not light up the festival?” says Jeswanth, a 35 year old second generation entrepreneur who has taken over his father’s election material business.

Flashing neon t-shirts and projection pens are two of the innovative products they plan to bring out in the forthcoming elections. With some R&D and a few trips to China to buy the relevant technology, they are getting set to change the concept of election propaganda material. “The challenge is to make these products affordable. This is possible only with mass production” says Bharat Jain, who runs the business with his brother jeswanth.
“We cannot focus on local candidates, as this will make mass production impossible. We will therefore focus on national candidates and party leaders. This will make it cost-effective and the product will be useful all over the country,” he adds. Hence, you can expect more of Sonia, Rahul, Mayawati, Advani and Vajpayee.

The Neon sign boards in the R&D stage (above left) the pen illumination (above right) Jeshwanth Jain (left) and some of the party t-shirts (above) .

The flashing neon t-shirts come with a small battery pack and were inspired by neon boards, which are commonly used for advertising these days. As the products are still in the R&D stage, the pricing has not yet been decided, they said. However, we will try to make the material the cheapest possible because we are aware of the Election Commission’s 10 percent cap on election material related expenses.
“The most common complaint from the common man is the fact that the election material maker our cities dirty. So we have to come up with ideas that do not need cleaning up. Instead of posters, banners and flyers, let’s use t-shirts and pens!” With flex banners, the use of paper posters has come down, with these t-shirts and pens, it will come down further.
About the EC, the brothers have plenty to say. “The EC’s mandate, “says Jeswanth, “is eating into the livelihood of a lot of small manufacturers. With the strict enforcement of the law, it is not the candidates who suffer, but the small people who form the chain of the election material production.”
The lady at the tailoring machine, the packers, the auto-drivers who transportsit, the people who put up the hoardings … it is a long process and affords livelihood to innumerable people. These are the people who will suffer if the cap on the election material expenses is enforced strictly, he says.
‘With election material, the voter gets to know who the candidate is, and what his symbol is. So election material is critical to the democratic process. We outsource our production to many NGO’s where women and poor people work. So the EC’s directive hits them hard. If 10 lags are put on a car, it only costs Rs 100. But the media and EC, make us the villains. For just Rs 10,000, we can make every village look festive. Election material is not really expensive,” he said.
Also, the EC’s directive, leads to inadvertent consequences like increasing invisible expenses like free liquor, trucking in people, etc. the EC should take note of this, Jeswanth contends.


We decided to check with Abdul Jabbar of the Bhopal Gas Peedith Mahaila Udyog Sanghatan, and this is what he says: “Soon after the Bhopal gas tragedy, we took up the work of producing election material, and the survivors were very happy. However, for the last two elections, our workload has gone down. This has hit us badly.”

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