Rent-a-Crowd: The unethical industry mushrooms as polls near!

As elections near, crowd-outsourcing becomes a new avocation with zooming demand for people during campaigning, rallies, and processions. Though no candidates in the fray or political parties would admit this new phenomenon, the truth is one can find many people with no political affiliation and many a time not even knowing whom they are supporting, filling as crowds for ‘netas’ and political outfits. There is little doubt many ‘Rent-a-Crowd’ or ‘Crowds on Demand’ shops have mushroomed in recent times to make a killing.  The thought behind this newfound business is that the size of the crowds in political rallies determines the strong credentials of ticket contenders and the graph of candidates in elections. So next time you attend a political rally, look at the enthusiastic crowds with a pinch of salt.

Tehelka Cover Story in this issue ‘Crowd on Rent’ tries to uncover the shadowy industry involved in sourcing crowds at political rallies for a price as the country braces up for the 2024 general election. Our Special Investigation Team found during its long-awaited investigation into the sourcing of surging crowds, a practice rapidly evolving into industry. For years, whispers of “rented crowds” have lingered, but concrete proof remained elusive. This investigation by us marks the first time that the media has captured contractors on camera who provide crowds for hire to any political party willing to pay. It is a fact that politicians love to gauge their popularity by the sheer magnitude of the crowds they can attract to create a perception and build a narrative, but is this truly an accurate measure when many in attendance have been enticed with promises of food, alcohol, or cash? No doubt, it is not uncommon to observe familiar faces at separate rallies hosted by different political parties.

Crowd contractors give their first-hand account of this new roaring, upcoming ‘industry’ when contacted on hidden cameras. A crowd contractor who doubles up as a functionary of a shelter home offered to arrange a crowd for Tehelka SIT’s hypothetical political rallies at a price.  Our exposé has laid bare the connection between readily available young people for political rallies and the stark realities of unemployment, hunger, and poverty that lure people to participate in the crowd.  The report unravels the dubious operation of crowd contractors to attract crowds with the offers of food packets, liquor, and cash to attend campaign rallies. Crowd contractors’ mantra for business is to convince ‘netas’ that “if you are surrounded by crowds and paparazzi, you are taken more seriously.”  These crowd providers go to the extent of signing non-disclosure ‘guarantees’ to protect the client’s anonymity. The audacity with which they work can be seen in a company ‘Bheed Gnr8tr’ openly proclaiming on its website that it is ‘India’s first and only Rent-a-Crowd Platform”, offering ‘bheed’ or crowd for rent throughout India. We hope Tehelka’s story will foster greater awareness and scrutiny of these unethical tactics in the political arena!