This season, farm hands in Punjab are reaping more than they sowed. And, for once, they can thank the politicians.
Elections mean rallies and rallies mean crowds — the more, the better. So politicians are hiring labourers to boost their show of strength. Their henchmen are luring the workers with the promise of Rs 150 per day for their uninterrupted attention and applause.
But feeling the pinch are the farmers.
Already faced with labour shortage because of lower influx of migrant workers this year, the farmers are now contending with politicians drawing away the few workers they had during the peak harvest season.
“To make their rallies successful, political parties are using local henchmen to hire the labourers,” said a beleagured farmer.
Gurdev Singh, a farmer from Cheete Kalan, said the recent squall has left most of the wheat requiring manual harvesting. “We are facing a crisis as most of these labourers prefer attending rallies. In the previous years, we used to pay the workers Rs 100 to Rs 120 a day, this time we hired labour for Rs 150 to Rs 180 a day as fewer migrants arrived. But the electioneering has led to chaos in the farm sector.”
For the local farm hands though, life just got better.
Rather than slogging it out in the fields all day in the blazing sun, they now attend rallies, which comes with the additional incentive of drinks at night.
Jagdish Singh, a farm labourer, grins: “This is far easier. Attending a rally involves no exertion and we get to earn more. Liquor flows freely too.”
His wife also joins him at the rallies. “It’s double the benefit. By working as a domestic help, she earns a measly Rs 200 a month. Here we get Rs 150 a day,” he explains.
The lower influx of migrants, according to farmer leader Ratan Singh Randhawa, is also connected to the polls. “Elections in UP and Bihar are big business for the workers. They move from one city to another depending on the party and politician involved. They have no loyalty, nor do they understand what is being spoken, but the money draws them. Most of them did not reach Punjab this time, resulting in the labour crisis.”
Poultry farmer J.S. Bhandari said: “It’s a tough time for us. Besides the traditional labour, domestic helps are also leaving to attend rallies. Things might get better once the polls are over.”