In Allahabad, normal office activity begins well after 10 am. But for the last couple of months, the two-storeyed headquarters of the local Shyam Group, possibly Allahabad’s biggest home-grown business, on the plush Thornhill Road, has been buzzing from 8. The high-profile corporate office of BJP candidate Shyama Charan Gupta, entrepreneur and owner of the Rs 350 crore Shyam Group, had become an orange war camp. The industrialist had put not just his office but also his teams to work on winning the election. Just as in a corporate office, teams were engaged in cubicles, working on his campaigns. The former MP from Banda was making a desperate attempt to topple the two-time Samajwadi Party MP Kunwar Rewati Raman Singh from the prestigious Allahabad seat.
With two local businessmen vying for this coveted seat, Allahabad exemplifies the role of money in polls. If Gupta, a high-profile bidi-to-fmcg-to-hotels magnate, was on one end, on the other was Congress candidate Nand Gopal Gupta Nandi, owner of Nandi Ram’s Industries, which is into packaging and rice. Interestingly, both candidates had run their previous elections from other parties. And both are using their business and financial clout to feed their campaigns.
Gupta, the bigger businessman, had unleashed a high-profile campaign in the city with a team of about 4,000 people, including his wife Jamnotri Gupta, a director in his group and a local politician, his sons and his daughter. Business-wise, he is concentrating on tourism and industrialisation, with particular focus on small-scale industries. “Allahabad has been ignored by industries because of the apathy of local politicians. There is a need to rekindle the spirit of industry here,” he told Outlook. Of course, tourism will help his business; he owns Allahabad’s biggest and best hotel, and many of his businesses are in the small-scale sector.
Gupta and his team did not spare anything to make their presence felt, as the city’s walls and light poles were splattered with the BJP’s ‘saffron’ orange and Narendra Modi’s portraits, making it perhaps Allahabad’s most expensive campaign ever. Campaign managers also said that they had worked overtime to host five lakh people for a Modi rally. Considering that an average rally costs upwards of Rs 1 crore, the costs could have been significant.
Congress’s Nandi, however, used a different tact and capitalised on his older connect with grassroots. Local observers say Nandi has a history of helping out the needy and distressed and has often given money to the poor. Much of this connect, say observers, is from his BSP days. So his campaign concentrated on reaching out to Allahabad’s poor. There was just one note of dissonance: the caravan of luxury suvs he used to visit them.
But Allahabad is no different from other constituencies and the money game has been decentralised here too. Locals Outlook spoke to said hard cash, ranging from Rs 500 to Rs 2,000, was paid to voters to ensure a vote. The next dollops were food and liquor, the latter being distributed in small bottles. There was also the promise of a small but neat amount to attend a campaign or rally, apart from the filling up of petrol tanks of bikes belonging to people who could mobilise people. The city, known primarily for its high court and the Prayag, has not seen such heightened economic activity for years. Sadly, it may not match up in the near future.