Thiruvananthapuram, Apr 19: It seems odd in this highly politically conscious state of Kerala. But poverty and unemployment have driven youth, the old and women folk to team up under the banner 'professional election workers' to meet their financial needs.
Over 200 people under this banner are always ready for any election related works like participating in rallies, wall painting, door-to-door campaign, holding demonstrations and even giving election speeches, for reasonable rates.
Ganesh, the group coordinator, told UNI that all the workers had their own political inclinations but poverty and unemployment had forced them to work for whichever party sought their services.
He said almost all parties, be it the Congress, BJP, CPI(M) or CPI, sought their services for their rallies and other work as in the city, parties found it hard to get their own workers. 'Any candidate or party leader can seek our services for any kind of election campaign but they have to pay reasonable rates,' he added.
'At the time of campaigning for a party that has booked our services, we set aside our politics. We need money and political parties also want people like us,' said Ganesh, who lives in the Chengalchoola slums in the city.
He said no decision was thrust upon members on exercising their franchise. 'Each member has the freedom to vote according to his interest,' he said and added that when stark poverty was faced, political rivalries became meaningless.
'This is a cluster of all political parties. We may have different opinions but this is not shown when a party seeks our service,' he said.
He said the group is youthful, in the age group of 18-20 and had women who were above 30 and married as its members. 'The women come out to the streets as they have utter poverty in their homes. The elders, though facing poverty, do not allow their unmarried daughters to come as election labourers as they feel it could affect their future'.
Sreekumar, an election labourer, said he joined the group as no political party was bothered about their plight. 'We do not have any benefit if we work for the party that we belong to. I want money,' he said and added he would get Rs 100 per day when booked by some party.
Narayan, another election worker said ''I believe in a particular political party. But it would not keep the fire burning in my house. So I work for anyone who gives the money.'' Asked what they would do once the polls were over, they said, 'We will go for work if we get it or it will be the same fate for us.' Ganesh said local leaders who approached them got a commission from their district leaders for arranging services. 'We are paid Rs 100 per person but local leaders get Rs 150 from district leaders.
This money includes providing food, water and other facilities for us, but what really happens is that we are just paid Rs 100.' Most of these 'election labourers' complain that no political party helped them in any way and that was why they formed such a group that was ready to do any type of election works for money.
The rates varied according to work. If it was Rs 50 for attending in an election meeting, it was Rs 100 for door-to-door campaign.
They said if political leaders wanted more people, then they were brought from other regions in the district. When the elections began, it started on a dull note but as the date neared, demand was high.