Editor's note: This is part of a multi-article series on the jobs crisis in the three states crucial to Lok Sabha election 2019: Chhattisgarh, Bihar and Uttar Pradesh.
Elections are hard work. For politicians. For cadres. For journalists. The mercury flirting with 40° Celsius makes it worse. But people gathered at the Patrakar Puram junction in Lucknow look forward to the election season. They are the daily wage earners from the capital of Uttar Pradesh who turn up at the junction every morning in the hope of landing a day’s work. Sometimes they get lucky, most of the times, they do not. But election season brings in a new opportunity to make money. By filling up the audiences at political rallies.
On the day of a political rally in and around the city, say workers, the atmosphere is that of anticipation and hope. “Political workers associated with different parties turn up in the morning and pick up 40-50 of us at one go,” says Kapil Kanaujia, 28, one of the daily wage labourers at the Patrakar Puram junction. “We are paid Rs 400 to just sit in the audience. On top of that, they give us food and sometimes liquor. It is much easier than our daily struggle.”
Kapil, a resident of Lucknow, has been a labourer all his life. He has been turning up at the junction every day for the past decade or so. “The contractors arrive in the morning and hire us,” he says. “The work mostly includes construction sites, painting walls, or cleaning up premises. We get Rs 300 or so for the day’s work.”
The junction is busy at dawn. Tea vendors have arrived at the spot, briskly selling one cup after another. As the sun goes up, the junction gets busier, eventually leaving little space to stand at around 8.30 in the morning. Whenever an auto or a car slow down by the junction, workers frantically run towards the vehicle, hoping to be hired.
There are a few more of these junctions in Lucknow. The hope of landing a day’s work is inversely proportional to the intensity of the sun. By noon, if the workers are still at the junction, they accept their fate for the day and head home. Only to come back the next morning with renewed optimism. “We get work about 15 days or so in a month,” says Kapil. “There are so many of us available, it is impossible for all of us to get jobs every day of the month.”
According to the Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy, Uttar Pradesh’s unemployment rate is 8.1 percent as against the national average of 6.7 percent. The labour participation rate in Uttar Pradesh is 39 percent, as against the national average of 42.81 percent.
In that context, a scheme like Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act was perceived as a crucial intervention to generate employment in the unskilled sector by providing at least 100 days of work a year to the households that signed up. But in Lucknow, in the year 2018-19, only 573 out of the 34,987 households completed 100 or more days at work under the scheme. In other words, 1.63 percent.
Pradeep Verma, another labourer at the Patrakar Puram junction, says there are not enough industries in the region for them to find work. “That is why we like election season,” he grins. “We know we would be making more money than usual. We would be engaged more frequently than usual. Our economy receives a boom during this period. This is the only time we are sought after.”
The labourers assembled at the junction have sat through the rallies of all the important political leaders. Who do they like listening to the most? “Apna kya hai, jo bulayega waha chale jayenge (There's nothing about us, we go wherever we are called)," says Verma. “Lekin Modi ji ko sunne mein bada maza aata hai. (But we enjoy listening to Modi).”
Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s demonetisation had hurt them the most. “Hum toh bhikari bann gaye notebandi ke baad (We came beggars after demonetisation),” says Verma. “We could not cook for months after the decision. Contractors did not have any cash to pay us.”
Yet, Verma is a Modi fan. “It was an important move. It flushed out black money from the corrupt rich,” he adds.
Verma attended Modi’s rally a few days back. “He speaks forcefully,” he says. “He is an honest man. He has provided toilets, housing and gas to the poor.”
Jitendra Kumar, another Modi fan, overhearing the conversation, cannot help but join in. “People do not know Modi’s real name,” he says. “They all call him Narendra Modi. But his actual name is Shri Narendra Modi.”
Another labourer, startled, laughs and says, “Bhai kal tum PM banoge toh tumhare naam ke pehle bhi ‘Shri’ lagega. (Brother if you become the PM tomorrow 'Shri' will be added before your name as well). Even Manmohan Singh’s name used to be written like that.”
Jitendra rebuts, “Manmohan Singh ko koi nahi jaanta tha (No one knew Manmohan Singh). Modi is known across the globe. India’s image is what it is because of Modi.”
The labourer arguing with him gives up and recuses himself from the conversation. Upon asked his name, he says, “Rahul. Not Gandhi. Rastogi.”
It is clear Rahul Gandhi and Congress are not very popular among the labourers at the junction. “He is improving,” says Rahul Rastogi. “He speaks better than what he used to. But he is not there yet.”
Interestingly, the workers that revere Modi and do not find Rahul Gandhi impressive, hate hearing Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath. “It is like listening to a broken record,” says a worker, requesting not to mention his name. He jokingly adds, “We should demand more money to sit through his ramblings. The only thing he can speak about is Hindu-Muslim. Most of us attend his rally drunk. It helps.”
Quite a few of those advocating Modi at the Centre, prefer Akhilesh Yadav as chief minister of the state. “He has developed the state and the city of Lucknow. He distributed laptops to students as well,” says the worker, and concludes. “Anja panja jao bhool. Yaad rakho cycle aur phool.” (Forget the hand. Remember the cycle and flower)
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Updated Date: May 03, 2019 12:35:48 IST