Chummanlal likes it during elections. “That’s when we realise even the rich beg for a living – politicians in crisp white kurtas come to our jhuggis asking for votes,” he says, chuckling at the thought of it. Of course, they disappear after the elections, but Chummanlal likes it till it lasts. He has been voting for the last 40 years.
But not everyone is as forgiving as Chummanlal. Some like Sajanwa are angry that politicians come to them for votes but forget them after the job is done. “They promise better living conditions and land but forget everything and make an appearance only for the next election.”
Ram Khilawan is 70 and has been begging at the temple at Hanuman Setu for the last several years. He is amused that politicians seek votes “secretly – they don’t want to be seen with us but could do with our votes. So they come to our jhuggis, not to us work place”. He says he is not a regular voter but has made it to the voters' list.
Most of the people in the slums near Nadwa in Lucknow say they haven’t got their identity cards yet, despite the district magistrate's assurance that the voters' I-cards would be distributed by April 20. “The politicians had promised to shift us to better shelters and get our land regularised, but nothing’s happening. This time, I will vote only for a genuine candidate,” says Fakir Miyan. And to make sure he does that, he begs, “Please help me get my voter card.”
Fakir says he has heard of party workers distributing liquor in his slums a day before the elections but claims to have never fallen into that trap.
Since there has been no comprehensive study on beggars, their exact number cannot be known. “But they have a right to vote,” said additional district magistrate Abrar Ahmed. Advocate I.B. Singh said voting was a legal right and that beggars could exercise their franchise.