Election candidates make their mark on rickshaws



As the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) gets tougher on campaign spending, the battle for the next elections is being fought on the 3 feet by 3 feet rear of rickshaws in the metropolitan, providing a panacea for all political players having rolled up their sleeves before going to polls, Pakistan Today has learnt.

Rickshaws, being the popular mode of commuting for the city dwellers for decades, has been traditionally famous for popular poetry and tongue-in-cheek comments written on its back, being a source of delight for the readers. The first shift in what appears at the back of rickshaws came with local academies ensuring a bright future followed by quacks, faith healers and small religious groups each selling their own brand. A tinge of politics was seen with a few drivers putting up flexes of their favourite political or religious leaders in the start, however what turned it into a proper market was Dr Tahir Ul Qadri’s long march when this previously unnoticed space was used as part of a proper media campaign on a large scale.

“Previously local academies, quacks, faith healers and local religious groups used to advertize on the rears of rickshaws, however the shift came with Qadri’s long march when substantial amounts were paid to rickshaw drivers on a large scale,” former Lahore Rickshaw Union president Majeed Ghori told Pakistan Today.

With the current ECP restrictions setting Rs one million and Rs1.5 million ceiling on the campaign spending by candidates for provincial and national assemblies respectively, all political parties reluctantly swallowed the strict “code of conduct” amidst cut-throat competition in the metropolis. Besides, the ECP has also specified the size of billboards and flexes which can be put up on display by a candidate or a political party.

As a result of the cost-effective marketing campaign, rickshaws are now seen carrying flexes of all political parties including the PML-N, PTI, Tehreek Minhaj-ul-Quran and the PPP in all areas of the city.

Ghori, who is vying for the same slot again, estimates around 200,000 4-stroke rickshaws in the metropolitan, with single owners having up to 1,000 rickshaws in certain cases. The dynamics of rickshaw marketing have changed over the years from Rs 50 being given to the driver for a flex to Rs 500 given by Dr Qadri for his long march, setting the bar really high for all others, he says.

The dynamics are so interesting that each rickshaw is carrying multiple flexes each for a particular area.

“The PTI started advertising on rickshaws only 10 days before its recent procession and hired rickshaws on a large scale just like Tehreek Minhaj-ul-Quran. They paid up to Rs 500 for this period. The easy way is to go to one of the many rickshaw stands, take CNICs of drivers and note down the vehicle registration numbers and keep a check on them for an agreed period for which they are being paid,” Abdul Shakoor, a rickshaw driver told Pakistan Today.

“It has become so important that some local influentials even forcefully put their flexes on rickshaws without paying a penny. But at the end of the day the drivers use these flexes as tablecloths,” he added.