INDIA: A former Indian politician who launched a rent-a-crowd company recently in southern Kerala state to provide enthusiastic cheerers at party rallies says he is deluged by offers from would-be recruits.
"I daily receive at least 250 telephone calls from those wanting to join my training programme," Devarajan, who uses only one name, told the Hindustan Times in Kerala's capital, Thiruvanthapuram, shortly after placing an advert in a local newspaper seeking candidates.
One potential enlistee, he declared, asked for insurance cover, while another said he was willing to participate in any mode of agitation including violent ones, provided he was assured a bottle of liquor and chicken curry every day for his efforts.
Devarajan proposes to "coach" all recruits in attending rallies by teaching them the subtleties of slogan shouting, hectoring and cheering, pay them a "decent wage" and get them ready for swift deployment any time a political party wants an impressive crowd.
"When all political parties and organisations are doing it discreetly, why can't we do it professionally?" the enterprising retired politician asked.
Many Indian political parties frequently entice people, in cash or kind, to show up for their rallies, transporting them in buses and trucks. They were paid between Rs100 - Rs150 (€1.50 - €2.30) a day to participate and sometimes even provided food at mobile community kitchens. "Most of the time payment [from political parties] is in arrears," a prospective recruit lamented.
But if there is someone like Devarajan willing to ensure regular payment for attending rallies we welcome it, he added optimistically. Locals said the response to Devarajan's advert reflected Kerala's very high unemployment rate.
While literacy in Kerala at 91 per cent is India's highest, significantly more than the national average, 65 per cent, joblessness is rampant because the predominantly agricultural state has no major industry. According to official statistics, some four million of Kerala's population of over 32 million remains without work, with large numbers travelling to the Gulf sheikhdoms to do menial household jobs.
Crowds, meanwhile, are not all that political parties hire, especially in northern India. They employ large numbers of wrestlers and body builders to provide security for candidates, to "capture" polling booths to enable their patrons to stuff ballot boxes with impunity, and, in some cases, to intimidate their rivals.
However, the advent of electronic voting machines in general elections across the country last year made things more difficult for wrestlers who earlier would insouciantly stamp ballot papers for their patrons. Under the new rulesthey now have to adopt more "innovative" means, in addition to using brawn.
"Politicans seek out wrestlers for campaigning," locally renowned wrestler Jagdish Kalliraman said in New Delhi.
They are promised jobs and given good money, he added. The "campaigning package" for wrestlers varies according to their popularity, with leading grapplers being paid up to Rs5,000 (€75) a day for "varied" services.