UP Polls 2017: Will Agra’s DeMo-Hit Shoe Industry Boot Out BJP?
Will the BJP’s Budget allocation, Mayawati’s promises or ‘yuva neta’ Akhilesh Yadav win over Agra’s voters?
We are met by several dejected faces as we walk into the famous Hing ki Mandi, which is known for its shoe industry and falls in the Agra (South) Assembly seat.
Over 3.5 lakh families associated with the trade were affected when demonetisation slashed down business to a meagre 10 percent. This industry, which employs lakhs of individuals, is unorganised and completely cash-dependent.
After the note ban, small shops and workers have been left cashless and alarmed, says Dilip Khubchandani, general secretary of the local shoe union and owner of Bhavya Indiana shoes.
These small-scale manufacturers of Agra produce approximately 58 percent of the total number of shoes sold in the country. While some of the leather is recycled in Agra itself, a large quantity is brought in from tanneries in Kanpur and Unnao.
'Notebandi' is the topic of discussion everywhere.
“Demonetisation will affect the elections. People who are educated and understand economics know that demonetisation will be beneficial in the long run,” says Khubchandani. But uneducated voters, who form a huge chunk of the population, are angry. Most of the workers don’t even have bank accounts, he adds.
BJP’s ‘Brahmin’ Trump Card
According to one estimate, the Agra (South) constituency has 22 percent Dalit residents while 23 percent are Muslims. To capitalise on these numbers, both the Samajwadi Party-Congress and the Bahujan Samaj Party have fielded Muslim candidates. The AIMIM too is in the running here with a Muslim nominee.
The BJP has continued its tactics from the 2012 polls and fielded a Brahmin candidate, Yogendra Upadhyay, to attempt a consolidation of Hindu votes. The BJP had, in fact, gained from the divide in Muslim votes last time, with Upadhyay emerging winner.
Sunny Verma, a shoe manufacturer, vows to vote for the BSP. He claims that it is Mayawati who has brought development in the state and the SP government is responsible for the goondagiri (hooliganism).
Mohammed Zeeshan, another shoe manufacturer across the street, has a different view. He associates the SP with development and calls it a "youth" party, especially with another young leader, Rahul Gandhi, joining hands with Akhilesh Yadav. But Khubchandani’s 27-year-old son echoes a different sentiment.
There are fifty-fifty chances of the SP-Congress alliance winning. The youth of Agra do not relate with what the Congress vice president says.
Mayawati recognises the split in Muslim votes. She attacked the SP-Congress tie-up in a rally, saying, “Muslim voters should not get swayed by the alliance and waste their precious votes by supporting it.”
Jaitley’s Budget Sops
She has also tried to use demonetisation in her favour and has promised to constitute a commission to look into the problems of businessmen. The BSP supremo has also pledged to launch a special scheme for Agra’s leather shoe industry and waive loans up to Rs 1 lakh for farmers if voted to power.
The BJP, too, has been trying to gain support of the footwear industry. In the Union Budget, a special package was announced for the labour-intensive footwear and leather industry by Union Finance Minister Arun Jaitley. A package to the tune of Rs 5,000-6,000 crore is expected to be rolled out soon.
With voting set for February 11, one wonders whether it will be the Budget allocation by the BJP, Behen ji’s promises or the ‘yuva netas’ that will swing the electorate their way.
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