Foreign tourists line up to witness festival of democracy

Foreign tourists line up to witness festival of democracy

Foreign tourists line up to witness festival of democracy

As the poll juggernaut rolls on, tourists from countries like the US, France, Nigeria and UAE have decided to witness the rough-and-tumble of polls in the world's largest democracy, especially the keen contest in the holy city of Varanasi.

Notwithstanding the scorching Indian summer, many foreigners have registered for a USD 1200 six-night, seven-day election tourism package offered by a private tour operator which includes visit to public rallies, poll campaigns, meeting party leaders and Election Commission officers.

However, the NRIs and Gujaratis settled abroad are mainly interested in the contest between BJP's PM nominee Narendra Modi and AAP's Arvind Kejriwal in Varanasi.

"Inspite of summer, more people have committed to visit India during polls under 'Election Tourism' initiative," said 'Election Tourism India's city-based chairman Manish Sharma.

The concept was launched before the 2012 Gujarat Assembly elections and initially only 125 international tourists visited the state.

But this time 800 tourists have so far committed to watch the election process unfolding in the largest democracy of the world, he claimed.

"The idea of election tourism which was first conceived by us is going to deliver another influx of tourists in upcoming elections," Sharma said, adding that besides the 800 confirmed entries more than 2000 entries are expected.

He said inquiries from NRIs and specially NRGs (non-resident Gujaratis) increased after BJP declared it was fielding Modi from Varanasi.

"Most of the tourists want to visit the holy city of Varanasi to see its ancient value and to witness the fight between Modi and Kejriwal," he said, adding that tourists often inquire about Modi and Aam Admi Party.

When asked what is the major draw for foreign tourists, he said the "thrill" associated with elections here is unique.

"Elections in India are different from any other part of the world...Here is thrill, energy, enthusiasm amongst the parties and the masses," Sharma told PTI.

"A large number of entries have been coming from Germany, France, America, United Kingdom, China, United Arab Emirates, Nigeria and Singapore," he claimed.

When asked how he hit upon the idea of 'election tourism', Sharma said, "In Mexico, I had found that tourists were taking interests in polls in 2007. I decided that election tourism can be introduced in India too".

"People have visited pilgrimage spots, sea beaches, mountain ranges... everything, but they need something new and this is the new and unique initiative for them," Sharma said.

The election tourism by the private tour operator includes visits to public rallies, poll campaigns, meeting different party leaders and Election Commission officers.

"Americans are very eager to witness our elections. A group of 70 to 80 people has approached us to visit India during elections," he said.

Sharma said the election tour 2014 consists of six-night, seven-day package for which a tourist has to pay USD 1200.

The entrepreneur said he had also sought assistance from Gujarat government, leaders of the various political parties and the Election Commission of India. "They all have assured to extend their support," he claimed.

Meanwhile, state Tourism Minister Saurabh Patel has appreciated the initiative.

"If we have tourism of health, medical and in all other sectors, why cannot we promote election tourism which gives a chance to the world to witness the biggest festival of democracy," he said.

Patel said ideally the department of tourism should have taken such initiatives, "but we will welcome the initiative taken by a private agency".

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