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West Bengal Election 2021: The only place where the lotus and twin flowers peacefully coexist with the hammer and sickle

These days, BurraBazar, Kolkata’s largest wholesale market, is festooned with election material of every political outfit, with traders selling a variety of merchandise to the party faithful. And, t-shirts of the CPI-M are the costliest in their category.

March 26, 2021 / 01:00 PM IST
Bengal B.J.P. organized a law violation program protesting against failure of police in West Bengal, M.S.P. demands for farmer and violence by ruling T.M.C on June 18, 2015 in Kolkata, India. [Image: Shutterstock]

Bengal B.J.P. organized a law violation program protesting against failure of police in West Bengal, M.S.P. demands for farmer and violence by ruling T.M.C on June 18, 2015 in Kolkata, India. [Image: Shutterstock]

Ashok Singh, the owner of Ram Jiwan Singh & Sons in BurraBazar, Kolkata’s largest wholesale market, has no time to rest. Singh’s shop sells an assortment of election merchandise including flags, sarees, t-shirts, key chains and badges. Followers of the Trinamool Congress, BJP and Left Front, who want to make last-minute purchases ahead of the eight-phase elections, which kick off on March 27, throng his shop.

“Till last week there was not a big rush among the party followers to buy poll campaign material. But since the beginning of this week, we are getting very little time to rest as the demand is on the higher side,” said Singh.

The narrow and meandering lanes of Pageya Patti in BurraBazar, which is the hub for poll campaign merchandise, are stocked with colourful poll campaign materials of various political parties, waiting to be sold to their respective supporters.

T-shirts with the Trinamool’s election tagline, Khela Hobe (Game On) and Bangla Nijer Meyeke Chaye (Bengal wants its own daughter) are selling for Rs 70-80 in BurraBazar, while flags are going for Rs 4-6 apiece. BJP t-shirts carrying the symbol of the party and the visages of Prime Minister Narendra and State BJP president Dilip Ghosh are priced at par with the Trinamool’s t-shirts.

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Interestingly, t-shirts of the CPI-M, emblazoned with the symbol of the party (hammer, sickle and star) are a clear winner in BurraBazar, at least price wise. The CPI-M t-shirt is selling for around Rs 80-90 per piece. Explaining the rationale behind the higher price of the Leftist t-shirt, Tushar Agarwal, who sells poll campaign material, said: “The BJP and TMC t-shirts are white in colour. So, their prices are less. But the colour of the CPIM t-shirt is red, which is why the price is higher as the cost goes up when you dye the white t-shirt red.”

The shops in BurraBazar are also selling TMC sarees, which are popularly called Mamata sarees. These sarees have the symbol of the Trinamool (twin flowers in grass) spread all over. The wholesale price of these sarees is around Rs 130–150, depending on the quality. However, the supply of BJP and Left Front sarees is a little thin in BurraBazar. “This is because a lot of sarees are directly coming from Ahmedabad and are being distributed among party members,” said Singh.

The Mamata saree is popular among the women of rural Bengal. Tapan Maiti, a 25-year-old TMC supporter from Nandigram, where Didi is in a fight against BJP heavyweight Subhendu Adhikari, said: “Last week, some of us went to Burra Bazar to buy sarees for our women followers. We had bought 1,000 Mamata sarees.”

Agarwal said that in a day 5,000 Trinamool t-shirts, 4,000 BJP t-shirts and 3,000 CPI-M t-shirts are sold.

“It is normal that the t-shirts of the ruling party sell more. That, however, does not indicate anything about the poll outcome. Also, since the Trinamool had come out with its candidate list earlier than other political parties, the sale of their election merchandise has been more,” said Ashok Singh.

Surprisingly, the poll campaign materials of the Congress are not as visible as the other political parties in the fray. “There is a dedicated customer base for Congress poll campaign materials. They have already purchased campaign items,” Singh added.

One of the other election materials that has picked up momentum recently is umbrellas with party symbols. Since the summer has begun, the days are hot and sultry. “Demand for umbrellas has shot up from last week. Especially from districts where candidates and their followers have to walk long distances under the sun to reach out to people and seek votes,” said Ritam Jain, a trader in BurraBazar.

Online sales of flags have also been on the upswing over the last fortnight. Gyan Shah, owner of The Flag Corporation, which sells premium-quality flags, said: “This is a niche demand. Political parties use these flags for cars and on the dais. In the last fortnight, demand from Bengal for these types of flags has gone up by 10-15 percent,” said Shah. Prices of these flags start at Rs 300 and can go up to Rs 800.

The first phase of the poll is set for March 27, barely a day away. The eighth and final phase is on April 29. Have the parties done enough with their merchandise to sway voters? Counting day, May 2, will reveal that.

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Avantika G is a freelance writer based in Kolkata
first published: Mar 26, 2021 01:00 pm