Politicians getting delayed to venues for reasons of mobility or other preoccupations have finally revived the use of music and entertainment to mange the time deficit. These troupes attract good gathering and now even girls dance to the tunes of democracy, reports Suhail A Shah
A chubby middle aged woman clad in red overalls dances to the beats of drums and a harmonium. An ‘oddly’ dressed tall, lean man sings in a coarse, steady voice sending the men across the concertina wire into fits of whistling and shrieking while the women camp of the gathering hide their giggling faces in the loose ends of their head scarves.
The scene is of a Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) rally in Harnag area of Homeshalibugh Assembly segment in South Kashmir’s Kulgam district.
Political parties in Kashmir have been very busy campaigning and trying to woo voters, often organising several public gatherings every day, and they have found a very effective tool to keep the waiting people warm and glued to their seats.
Almost all the political parties have been hiring music bands, rock bands and solo singers to keep their audiences entertained while they wait for the leaders and the star campaigners to arrive.
The trick works almost always. Not only do the politicians manage to keep their audiences glued, they also often attract passersby who otherwise have no political affinities or are even loyal to the opponents.
Seventy-year-old Taja is one of the apolitical people who joined the BJP rally at Homeshalibugh Sunday, where BJP’s renowned Muslim face, Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi, was the star campaigner.
Taja was clueless when asked about BJP and Naqvi, or for that matter the party candidate for the constituency.
“I live nearby and I heard the music. I had not much to do at home so I decided to come here and enjoy the music for some time,” Taja said.
Some say that they come to drown their anxieties, anger and fears in the din of the music and all the hooting and shouting going on around it.
“I danced and whistled and made merry. The kind of outpour is unimaginable in Kashmir given our almost melancholic weddings and no parties to let your hair down,” said Muzammil Ahmad, a shopkeeper in Kulgam, who recently attended a CPIM rally.
Ahmad says he supports the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) candidate, “But I can have a little fun at the other rallies as well, isn’t it?” asks a grinning Ahmad.
A party worker, on condition of anonymity, said agreed that the tactic works almost always.
“The leaders have tight schedules and people tend to get restless waiting for them to arrive,” said the worker, “Music works.”
The main stream political parties have been using music to attract crowds for very long now; however the trend has ballooned during the ongoing election season in Kashmir.
The arrangement puts a little dent in the campaign budgets of the political parties and/or candidates but it has turned out to be a boon for the bands and singers who often remain out of work barring the marriage season in Kashmir and occasional bookings which are very few and far between.
A Srinagar based six member rock band ‘Valley Boys India’ has been performing at different Hotels across valley where they entertain tourists from the plains.
However this election season has been sort of a game changer for the band wherein they are experiencing open spaces and often interactive jubilant audiences.
“It is good money and the performances last just a couple of hours. Besides, crowds screaming and whistling is a dream come true for any musician,” says Muhammad Rafi, the lead singer at the band.
We have managed to perform at about a dozen different venues, all election rallies, in the past one month or so, says Rafi.
The ‘Valley Boys India’ band charges somewhere around 15,000 Rupees for a performance.
The Band recently performed at a CPIM rally in Kulgam district following which they have been able to secure another half a dozen performances in different parts of the district.
Then there are the smaller, conventional music troupes who remain the preferred lot in rural areas for they instantly strike a chord with the audiences unlike the modern bands.
Most of these troupes have a small boy, dressed as a girl wearing anklets, who dances and keeps the crowd on their feet. The boy is called ‘Bacche Kot’ in local parlance.
Things however; seem to be changing as was evident at the BJP rally in Harnag where the girl in red mesmerised the audiences with her singing and dancing. Dilber Ashiq Hussain and group, including the girl, charged the organisers 12,000 Rupees for the performance.
A member of the group however maintains that they prefer marriage parties over these kinds of performances.
“Money is good in marriages and the guests at marriages pay hefty tips. Here the audiences sit across the wires and the only people left to pay are the party workers and they don’t often pay much,” says the member.
But this is decent money nevertheless and the marriage season is over as well, he says, “We have had about 7 to 8 performances in the last month.”
With the election season already warmed up and still far from conclusion the bands and the folk troupes have their fingers crossed expecting more work to come.
The crowds meanwhile get entertained without having to pay for it. Whether the new regime in Kashmir will keep them warm and entertained, remains to be seen.