Chariot pollfare

Campaign raths are a hit with politicians

Chariot pollfare

A chariot conjures up an image of a horse-driven vehicle. For modern-day politicians in India, though, a chariot or rath is a luxury contraption, a special purpose vehicle that carries them through the rigmarole of an election campaign without breaking much sweat.

Ever since the legendary Andhra Pradesh actor-turned-politician, N T Rama Rao pioneered the concept of election raths by embarking on a marathon journey through the state aboard the contraption that catapulted him to power in 1982, they caught on. Thereafter politicians have used raths as flag-bearers of their gruelling election campaigns.

Another famous journey on a rath that chartered a new course for Indian politics was undertaken by BJP leader L K Advani in early 1990s.

Advani’s rath and several other election raths being used by politicians across the country are fabricated by a coach building company, named JCBL at Lalru, about 30 km from Chandigarh.

Though the company seeks to maintain unusual secrecy about its clients refusing to reveal their identity, sources within the political fraternity reveal the names of political personalities who have got their election vehicles fabricated by the company.

Haryana chief minister Bhupinder Singh Hooda’s Vijay Rath , Andhra Pradesh chief minister Y S Rajasekhara Reddy’s rath – fabricated by the company proved auspicious for the two politicians as the Congress scored thumping victories in the parliamentary polls.
Mayawati, who also reportedly used the special election van redesigned by the company, however, did not fare too well at the hustings this time.

In the past, Punjab chief minister P S Badal and former chief minister Capt Aamarinder Singh have also used special purpose vehicles fabricated by the company. While Capt Singh got his vehicle bullet-proofed by the company, Badal procured a specially designed election vehicle to campaign during the 2002 assembly polls. Having injured his hip bone, Badal got a hydraulic lift and a public address system installed within the vehicle to enable him address the  gatherings without leaving the vehicle.

Capt M S Grewal, marketing head of the JCBL while talking to Deccan Herald refused to name politicians who had availed of their facility and also excused himself from revealing the cost of fabricating their vehicles.

“The cost depends on the facilities being sought by the client as the vehicles are custom-made according to individual requirement of a politician. The common facilities include air conditioners, heaters, a kitchen, a separate bed room and a living room”, he says. “Some politicians demand satellite television, hydraulic lifts, sun roofs, LCD screens”, he adds.

Sources reveal the upgrading of vehicles into luxurious coaches costs upwards of Rs 10 lakh.

In the rough and tumble and heat and dust of an election campaign, these raths provide luxury on the wheels for politicians besides enabling them to stop, conduct road shows and address small gatherings while on the move.

“The comfort and ease of commuting on these vehicles helps politicians de-stress during electioneering”, says Sunder Pal, media advisor to the Haryana chief minister who often accompanied his boss on his Vijay Rath during long campaign periods. An impromptu press conference can also be organised by leaders within these vehicles with a small conference room.

Grewal says the company had also supplied refurbished OB Vans for television channels and also for big corporates enabling their managements to hold meetings and conferences while on the move.

The JCBL set up in 1989 has also been fabricating ATM vans, mobile display vans, bullet proof vans, mobile courts, riot control vehicles, hospital-on-wheels and school buses.  
“It is a niche segment. The company caters to custom-made demands", says Grewal, adding the company wants to fabricate mobile homes for domestic tourists.

Rajesh Deol in Chandigarh

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