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Poll platter shrinks under EC glare

- Parties replace biryani and booze with samosa and tea to curb campaign expenses

A plate of mutton biryani has been replaced by a bowl of beaten rice. And the good ol’ vodka with simple tea.

If party workers cutting across political lines appear a wee bit grumpy on the campaign trail, blame a frugal meal that can hardly keep them in good humour after a tiring day out in the blistering sun.

Political parties have massively cut down on their election expenses, a sizeable portion of which goes into feeding workers out for canvassing, with the Election Commission (EC) doling out a price chart for every item purchased for campaigning besides keeping a hawk’s eye on poll expenditure of every candidate. Hence, even though the expenditure limit for Lok Sabha elections has been increased to Rs 70 lakh for big states and Union territories and Rs 54 lakh for smaller states, political parties are watching their wallets as they have to account for every penny spent.

As a result, instead of liquor, cold drinks, lassi, various kinds of snacks, mutton and chicken biryani, party workers are having to do with plain water, tea, samosas, groundnuts and beaten rice.

In many cases, the volunteers are being told to get food and water from home as well.

“It is really tough to campaign in this hot summer. On top of that, we are merely given water and sometimes, samosas to satiate our hunger. Our candidate is avoiding extra spendings on cold drink, lassi and light snacks,” said a Trinamul Congress worker, who was campaigning for Ranchi Lok Sabha candidate Bandhu Tirkey.

State BJP president Ravindra Kumar Rai admitted that they had been forced to scale down their budget for food given the EC’s strict guidelines.

“The EC has set the prices of each and every item to be used during campaigning and we have to list the costs. We had to restrict our food expenses as otherwise, our budget would have hit the roof. Our party workers are constantly complaining, but we have no other option,” he added.

Ajsu spokesperson Deo Sharan Bhagat said their 10,000-odd party workers in Ranchi are campaigning sans any cold drink, lassi or snacks.

“EC ekdam humlog ko tight kar diya hain. Kaha se itna paisa ayega (The EC has made our position tough. From where we will get so much money,” he added.

So what do their workers do to keep hunger pangs at bay.

“We have requested them to have proper breakfast before leaving home and to carry lunch boxes and a bottle of water. We are also hiring limited number of vehicles and tent house materials,” Bhagat said.

If candidates and their electioneering teams are feeling the pinch, so are liquor shops, restaurants and hotels. Many of them claimed that their business had been badly hit this time in comparison to the 2009 Lok Sabha polls.

“Elections used to be a profitable season for us, but not any more. In the last general elections, a huge number of party workers had purchased branded liquor from my shop and kebabs and biryanis from a nearby restaurant. But this year, the demand is far less because of the EC curbs,” rued Ravi, a liquor shopowner near Morabadi.