The man at the shop appeared harassed on a hot Saturday afternoon. For, there were seven customers jostling for his attention.
“Kitna chahiye? (How many do you want?),” he asked one political-type dressed in all-white. But too busy to wait for a reply, he moved on to the next. “Rs 150 plus food for each woman and Rs 100 plus food for each attending male,” he said. “Theek hai (Okay)”, said a man as he fished for his wallet to pay an advance.
This is business as usual at Hajipur’s leading ‘rent-a-crowd’ shop. As the size of the crowds in political rallies determines the electoral solvency of ticket aspirants in election-bound Bihar, professional crowd contractors in Vaishali in north Bihar — just across the Ganga from Patna — are making a killing.
“The demand is so strong that we are unable to meet it. I wish elections were held more frequently,” said Shailendra, a ‘sales executive’.
“Each rallyist-for-hire is paid around Rs R60 plus food, leaving each contractor (read service provider) with a R40 profit per male and Rs 90 per female,” said political activist Rajendra Singh.
“Whenever ticket aspirants need to impress a party leader, they order a crowd. Between R50,000 and R1 lakh is charged for arranging a 500 to 1,000-strong crowd,” said Suman Kumar, a supplier.
Women and girls, he said, were more in demand for demonstrations and sit-ins as authorities were less likely to use force against them.
But the business was also about giving a slip. Recently, hundreds of rural women, who thronged a rally at Sonepur, a few kilometers away from Vaishali district headquarter Hajipur, caused a ruckus when the contractor fled without paying them.