At Lakshmi Chowk, within the heart of Lahore and in the congested Urdu Bazaar as well as along the printing plazas on Ferozepur Road, there is a growing sense of activity and anticipation.
The machines fixed in front of the shops churn out posters at regular intervals, while workers collect them and load the towering heaps into trucks which will transport them all over the city, wallpapering it in green, red and black.
However, as the owners of these businesses such as Usman Khan in Lakshmi Chowk told TNS, “There isn’t the same kind of liveliness that we have seen in previous elections. Political parties have been slow in getting work done. We think activity will pick up in the final weeks of the campaign.”
They certainly hope it will. While printing work continues around the year, election season brings with it an increase in demand for their services. Though this would ordinarily mean an increase in income, they cannot always be sure they will receive their dues, which leaves them uncertain and somewhat unhappy. “It is often difficult to get payments. Those who win just vanish, forgetting all about their promises to us, and those who lose refuse to pay,” said Muhammad Javed, another printer.
There have also been restrictions placed this time by the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) regarding the size of banners, hoardings, and posters, again, limiting business. The move is intended to prevent candidates from spending sums beyond the set limit on the campaign. However, the printers say that some candidates disregard these limits, ordering banners that are larger than 3×9 feet.
The ones facing the biggest losses are possibly the calligraphers who, until a few elections ago, were in much greater demand. For generations, these persons have penned beautifully designed and scripted lettering on cloth banners, each unique piece taking around half an hour to complete.
“Now, few people come to us,” said a calligrapher at the Urdu Bazaar, while he worked on a poster. “Writing by hand is not in vogue. Other methods are faster and less expensive.” Screen printing, according to the printers, is the most popular method of all because it is cheap, quick and efficient.
Apart from other complaints, the printers also say the weather is crippling. The rain means that the workers are unable to reach their workplaces, and flex posters do not stick well to their wooden frames because of the moisture.
“This is not a good time to be involved in producing such posters,” said Siddique Khan, another amongst those operating along the Ferozepur Road, his shalwar rolled up to his thighs to enable him to make it into his shop.
Beyond the actual printing business is the discussion that comes with it. The printers say that the candidates will truly come into their own once it is absolutely certain that the election will take place. They hold that for now there is still some uncertainty, although they are optimistic that a fair and free election will finally be held.
Their predictions are distinctly different from those made across Lahore in 2013. As they produce their posters, featuring candidates from the PML-N, the PTI, and a distinctly smaller number for the PPP and other groups that seem virtually nonexistent, the men, who in some ways, stand at the centre of the campaign process, believe that PTI is leading the field, this time around, considering most of the printing orders are coming from it. “We believe that this time, PTI shall win,” one of them stated.
However, it could just be that the PTI is the most optimistic party, spending the largest amounts of money and campaigning the hardest to get its hoardings out on the roads and across the city.
There is excitement everywhere as workers argue over how many orders they received the day before or where to place the posters in their shops. A plethora of campaign items could be seen covering every inch of one shop that we visited, with a large PTI banner, displaying Imran Khan’s broad smile, enticing the masses to give their votes to him, hung across one of the wall, as well as a variety of objects such as mugs, key chains, caps, smaller sized posters etc., hanging from another wall.
A relatively smaller PML-N poster could also be seen from under the PTI banner, with barely half of Nawaz Sharif’s face being visible, a representation of who is in the spotlight this time around and what is to come during the election.
As the election date draws nearer, and more parties start campaigning, the buzz amongst the printers and, indeed, throughout the city will increase.
The printers’ battles continue with each other over getting business from clients, who they say, give work mostly to those with which they have some sort of connection or familial ties. This work is much sought after and, in the past, has been carried out with great zeal and enthusiasm. That very fervour does not seem to have caught the air. Perhaps, it is the rains that dampened it or maybe the general political climate of the country.
This run-up to July 25 shall be crucial to the campaign and livelihood of the printers. Even today all the work seems to be continuing in an unfeeling, if efficient, vacuum. While most hope the election will take place duly, there are a number of people who doubt it will happen.