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Poll: How Khan makes booth ends meet

By Ehtasham Khan in Hazaribagh
Last updated on: February 05, 2005 00:08 IST
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Friday is Khalil Khan's lucky day. A day after the first phase of elections in Jharkhand, Khan is a rich man.

However, he is not exactly willing to reveal how much he earned.

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He was neither selling pamphlets nor was he printing posters. He is definitely not a psephologist or a journalist.

He is one among hundreds of unemployed graduates in this small town of Hazaribagh, about 90 km from Jharkhand's capital Ranchi.

Then why is Khan so excited about elections? He says: "I think elections should be held every month."

Khan was campaigning for two rival candidates -- Congress party's Saurabh Narayan Singh and independent candidate B D Jaiswal.

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He says, "I would campaign for Saurabh till afternoon and then for Jaiswal till late night."

"It was quite hectic for about a month. But I earned a lot. I am satisfied."

During election campaign time, Khan's day would start at around 07:00 am. He would reach Saurabh's office at Inderpuri Chowk, about 3 km from his home, at around 08:00 am.

He would have the free tea and breakfast served to party workers there. He then would get Rs100 to fill petrol in his motorcycle.

He generally would have saved enough fuel from the previous day's campaign to run his bike for one more day. So that is Rs100 earned.

Moreover, if his motorcycle runs out of fuel mid way, it will give him an excuse to drop the journey and return home.

Khan puts on a white cap with the Congress logo on it. He attaches the party's flag above the front wheel of his bike.

He then joins the group of around 20 such youngsters following Saurabh's car.

They shout in unison: "Sonia Gandhi long live. Saurabh Narayan long live".

The caravan moves from one neighbourhood to another. When the campaign stops for a brief halt, Khan moves ahead to gather some crowd.

Being good-looking and well-built, he manages to stand near his leader Saurabh to control the crowd.

Khan also knows many people in most of the neighbourhoods as Hazaribagh is a small town.

So many of Khan's friends join in whenever Saurabh wants to address a crowd in that particular area.

This continues till afternoon when the campaigners decide to have lunch together.

The leader pays the bill. This is the end of Khan's first shift.

After lunch, Khan removes the Congress party paraphernalia.

He then rushes to Saurabh's rival candidate B D Jaiswal. The same process continues till late night with regular tea and snack breaks.

The day comes to an end with dinner at Jaiswal's office.

Though Khan refuses to tell how much he earns, an election manager of the Congress tells that youngsters like Khan are paid Rs 10,000 for the entire campaign.

They also get Rs100 each day for fuel and an additional Rs100 a day as special tip.

There are some others who get just Rs 100 a day for gathering crowds at rallies and road shows.

The poll manager, who takes care of Saurabh's finances, said: "It depends on the person. How much he is able to bargain. We pay him if we think the person is influential and can get us some votes. Those who just shout slogans are given Rs 100 or so everyday."

"Influential supporters even get Rs.50,000 or even up to Rs.100,000."

Jaiswal, independent candidate from Hazaribagh who is a leading businessman, was the best paymaster in this election.

He has two cinema theatres and many other businesses.

"He was literally doling out money. I earned a lot from him," said Khan.

But the main income was on the eve of elections. All the youngsters were in demand that day.

Every candidate was looking for booth managers. Booth managers are those who stand near the polling booths and help voters to cast the ballot for their candidate.

The poll managers also see if the supporters of the rival candidates are not disturbing voters.

Said one poll manager: "It is seen that people of one particular area vote for one particular candidate. This is where the booth managers come in. They create problems for the voters of rival candidates by shouting or objecting or misbehaving with them. They also ensure the safety of the voters of their candidate."

Khan goes about his task cleverly. On the eve of elections, he took money from five candidates for managing their booths.

He says: "I personally support one party and I voted for that party. It is quite possible that I was managing the booth of one candidate whom I really support while carrying the stickers of some other party."

"What is wrong in taking money if so many people are willing to pay me? Elections do not come everyday." Khan says he will use the money in his sister's marriage next month.

Candidate Jaiswal, who has contested several times but has never won, says: "Yes why would anybody work for free? I should give them some incentive. They are working so hard for me in the cold weather. They will stay with me till the day results are declared. And even after that. They are my children."

Khan is just one of many unemployed youths for whom it was good opportunity to make some money.

Khan has no regrets. Some voters cheat politicians before the election, but the politicians cheat them for the whole five-year term, jokes Khan.

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Ehtasham Khan in Hazaribagh