It being the last day of the month, the Janakpuri market in Ludhiana Central constituency is shut. Yet the area is chock-a-block with people who’ve come here to see and listen to their hero Manoj Tiwari, the Bhojpuri film star and Delhi BJP chief.
Having come across autos and rickshaws blaring across the town to solicit votes in pure Punjabi, this setting is strikingly different. Suddenly, you have rallies being addressed in Hindi and Bhojpuri. The audience is different as well. There’s hardly a person who’s sporting a turban — a rare thing here. They are from different states — Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, Jharkhand and a few from Uttarakhand.
Over 500 men, women and children have squeezed themselves in 400 chairs. Behind them stand another 2,000 people who’ve occupied all possible vacant spaces around. They’ve patiently waited for Tiwari for two hours already. They’ve even “tolerated” a few Punjabi speakers during this period.
And now they learn Tiwari isn’t coming. He got stuck at another place. “He’s in demand these days. It doesn’t matter and he remains our hero,” says Ravi Yadav. They all swear by Tiwari. Prime Minister Narendra Modi is even a bigger hero for them. But they say they aren’t voting for their party BJP which is contesting Punjab elections in alliance with the Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD).
They indicate their vote is for the Congress in general while in some constituencies, especially in Ludhiana, they are also supporting the alliance of the Lok Insaaf Party of Bains brothers and the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP).
Migrants are a powerful community in the state, especially here in the industrial capital, Ludhiana. Migrant voters number nearly a million in four districts – Ludhiana, Jalandhar, Amritsar and Patiala — and are sufficient to alter the result in certain constituencies.
That’s why all parties try to woo them by roping in big stars. For instance, the stage where Tiwari was supposed to address them was graced by Bollywood’s “dream girl” Hema Malini in previous assembly polls.
The migrants say they don’t have many demands from the government. “Roads, power and proper sewerage are the things we want,” says Jitendra Thakur, who hails from Buxar in Bihar and works in a hosiery unit here.
“Migrants love both Modi and Arvind Kejriwal but not the Akalis for the way they were treated all these years,” says Pravasi Bhalai Board’s former director Hargobind Tiwari, who now runs an NGO, Justice for Migrants. “We all would have supported broom (AAP’s symbol) but we fear it may end up falling short of seats needed to come to power. The trend across the state is that we are supporting the Congress and AAP in some areas and not the SADBJP.”
They are rooting for the Bains brothers in Ludhiana who have allied with the AAP. “That’s because they have worked for us and treated us with respect,” says UP native Rajesh Kumar, a tea vendor, who has a vote in Giaspura, the area with a large migrant population. “We wouldn’t have got our ration cards had they (Bains brothers) not helped us. They help us without asking any question.”
Int head joining S her pu rm arket, a few people watch asa man is digging up a sewer drain pipe to clear the waterlogged road. “That happens every third day here and at various points,” says tailor Ram Singh, who came from UP two decades ago and settled here. “The Akali-BJP government always neglected our area. We’re with the Congress this time.” He says even minor things as getting a caste certificate has been an impossible task in this regime.
The February 4 polls comes in the backdrop of reports that Ludhiana’s migrants, most of whom are daily wage earners, were worst hit by the scrapping of Rs 500 and Rs 1,000 notes. Rake it up and it triggers an animated discussion. “It hit jobs of our brethren and many of them had to go back to Bihar as they weren’t being paid,” says Ruttadu Chauhan, who works in a factory. “Our sales were also hit ,” vegetable seller Manoj Kumar and vendor Dharmendra Pa tel join in.
Yet, they aren’t opposed to Modi or demonetisation. “Kaala paisa bhi to niklega. We are affected but those dealing in black money are the worst hit,” they say.
So, are they supporting Modi? “No, not in Punjab, because they have the tie-up with the SAD,” the three respond in chorus.