With the election just a month away, political parties in Mumbai are struggling with a unique problem: dearth of 'supporters' for their customary rallies that are meant to exhibit their popularity. No, money is not the problem, but attracting followers is!
The presence of a few more players has changed the scene at ground zero. The entry of Aam Aadmi Party—one of the serious contenders—as well as the symbolic competition from Samajwadi Party and Bahujan Samajwadi Party, has had its effect on the 'paid' supporter segment, which has been the main stay of parties to showcase their strength.
Many of these supporters are apparently switching loyalties, and the reason is financial. A Chembur resident, a staunch BJP supporter who is in the process of evaluating offers from rival parties, said: "My job is to arrange 100 people from the area to roam around with the candidate once the campaign starts. But many in the community are non-committal as they have already been lured by the local leader of another party."
Housewives, the elderly, and jobless youth form a major chunk of the rally crowds, and a majority of them are hired on daily wages. "Many of them are now sulking as they believe they would be in much demand this time around," said a crowd manager, who is having a tough time retaining his influence in Dharavi.
"People are now cleverer. Let's see what happens when the campaign gears up," said a Congress leader.
There is a steep "hike" in the wages this time. "Rs500 a day was fine two years ago during the corporation election, but what will that money fetch now? Moreover, this is a bigger election and the stakes are higher," said a Vikhroli woman, who is ready to campaign for whoever gives her Rs1,000 a day.
Harshal Pradhan, Shiv Sena spokesperson, however, denies buying supporters. 'We are the only party with a well-established cadre. We don't need to pay to attract people to our rallies," he claimed.
Nizamuddin Rayeen, Mumbai Congress spokesperson and president, minority cell, admits that 'paid' crowd is a fact, but blamed rivals for it. "Many of our supporters have switched to the BJP as they are paid Rs 800-1,500 for Modi's rallies. But we have our staunch supporters and they will surely turn up for our campaign."