Politics on wheels

Written by Abhishek Chakraborty | Updated: Mar 2 2014, 05:46am hrs
M KarunanidhiWith Lok Sabha elections around the corner, specialised mobile homes or caravans are touted to be the vehicles of choice. Reuters
During the last Assembly elections in Tamil Nadu, former chief minister and DMK president M Karunanidhi sought votes from a wheelchair that was raised into his hi-tech campaign vehicle with a special lift imported from Germany. Not to be left behind, his arch rival and state CM J Jayalalithaa campaigned from a Tempo Traveller equipped with a small dressing room and a chemical toilet. Up north, Uttar Pradesh CM Akhilesh Yadav made the right connect with his voters from a luxury caravan during the state polls in early 2012.

Specialised election campaign vehicles, also variously called mobile homes or caravans depending on their functionality and use, are once again in focus, as politicians gear up to woo voters in the run-up to the Lok Sabha elections due by May.

Ensuring that party members travelling across cities and villages campaign in safety and comfort, companies like JCBL, Paracoat Products (PCP), DC Design and Prakash Body Construction Company have already lined up a number of their office-cum-home vehicles. The vehicles can easily be converted into comfortable homes, where political stalwarts can eat, relax and work on their next moves after a day of vigorous election campaign.

Fully loaded

PCP Terra, the office-cum-home vehicle designed by Kolkata-based Paracoat Products, has a price tag of R37 lakh and is ideal for up to six people on the move. The multi-purpose vehicle is loaded with features such as a reverse camera, airconditioning and heating, refrigerator, microwave, wash room, shower, shelves and drawers for clothing and utensils, stereo, a multimedia system with a television, radio, and a DVD player. It also has a meeting area that can be converted into a bedroom for five people.

We wanted to come up with a vehicle that is readily available. It has been built keeping in mind the upcoming elections and the varied Indian conditions and requirements of our customers, says Rajesh Poddar, director of business development, Paracoat Products.

Considering the special demands from politicians during their election campaigns, the company has added facilities such as an LCD screen, folding tables, a generator and a sound system in the vehicle. The PCP Terra has been based on the Mahindra Genio pick-up truck and will be available in only one variant for now.

Poddar says, While campaigning, politicians need facilities like a meeting place where they can discuss various issues, besides proper toilets and spaces to rest, etc. Although Poddar is unable to provide a list of customers, owing to various reasons including security, the company has already received orders for about seven vehicles for the upcoming polls.

Priced at R65 lakh and going up to R1 crore, Punjab-based bus coach manufacturer JCBLs caravan is equipped with a lounge, a kitchen, refrigerator, a toilet and a luxurious bedroom, similar to the one used by Shah Rukh Khan in the movie Swades (2004). Built on the Fiat Ducato chassis, these motor homes can be easily converted into a meeting place, guesthouse, a place for amusement or simply a home away from home.

DC Design, a pioneer in customised vehicles that has been designing modified vehicles for golfing, mobile entertainment and hi-tech ambulances, apart from custom-making high-end cars, has also jumped on the campaign bandwagon. The Pune-based company has been using various vehicles like Innovas, Tempo Travellers and Isuzu and Volvo buses for creating such campaign vehicles. Priced anywhere between R10 lakh and R2 crore, the specialised vehicles come fitted with features like a lift-cum-bed, sofa-cum-bed, toilet, pantry, public address system and spotlights for better visibility, among others.

Apart from the regular features like storage cabinets, conference tables and LCD screens, Assam-based Prakash Body Construction Company (PBCC), a luxury bus converter company, has introduced a mini bar besides a 150-litre water tank in their campaign vehicles.

This model is very useful for politicians who stay away from their homes during the election campaigning season, says Gurpreet Singh Sehmi, proprietor of PBCC.

PBCC has already seen a number of enquiries for its luxury buses/ raths to be used during the election campaigning season. Yes, enquiries have started pouring in, but they are less compared to the previous elections, adds Sehmi.

Refraining from divulging the cost of these vehicles, Sehmi says specifications and costs purely depend on the requirements of the customers. About 10-15 different plan layouts are first designed by us. Once a design gets approved by the client, we start working on it, he explains. During the last elections, the company made a special campaign rath for the All India Congress Committee at a price tag of R5 lakh. It also rolled out four luxury coaches for other parties and are hoping to do the same for the upcoming polls as well.

Recently, we sent one luxury coach for election purposes in Bihar, and another one in a different state, adds Sehmi.

Made to order

Earlier, these motor homes were developed for filmstars and businessmen to be used as vanity vans and mobile conference rooms, but with inclusion of added features like mine-proofing and bullet-proofing, among others, they are now ready to be used even by the political classes.

We made a van for Uttar Pradesh CM Akhilesh Yadav during his election campaign in Uttar Pradesh in 2012. The unique feature of the vehicle was the hydraulic lift system which lifts the campaigner to the roof of the vehicle to address a rally, says Rishi Aggarwal, managing director, JCBL, adding: The hydraulic lift helps the politician to save time on travelling from his car to the rally ground.

Although JCBL has set a base price of R65 lakh for these vehicles, it feels that the prices may go above R1 crore, depending on the features demanded by the customers.

Giving an example, Aggarwal says, The vehicle used by late Andhra Pradesh chief minister YS Rajashekhara Reddy was priced at R1.5 crore because it was both mine-proof and bullet-proof.

Another politician wanted the front seat to be big enough and to be able to be rotated so that he could greet the crowd. So, that too came with an extra cost, adds Aggarwal.

As per Aggarwal, the recent state Assembly elections were not too good for the company it had sold only one vehicle (most of the other orders were for refurbishing older vehicles), but it hopes to do well in the upcoming Lok Sabha polls. For the upcoming Lok Sabha elections, we are currently working on a couple of orders. We will be doing a lot of vehicles in the election season and are expecting sales to pick up as we approach the elections, adds Aggarwal.

Aditya Tapadia of DC Design says the company customises its vehicles according to the requirements of customers.

We do have certain standard designs for vehicles in which we offer PA systems, spot-lights, lifts and sunroofs, but customisation can be done as per clients requirements, he explains.

For the upcoming elections, the company has already started getting bookings from various political parties and are expecting them to pick up as the election nears.

We have sold about 10 vehicles in the recently held Assembly elections and are working on about three vehicles for the upcoming Lok Sabha polls, says Tapadia.

Evolution

Caravans were considered a niche product segment in India, with not too many players. In October 2012, Basecamp, an Indian adventure travel accessories company, introduced two imported caravans in India priced at R22 lakh (plus taxes) and Rs 16 lakh (plus taxes), respectively. However, the scene is changing now

with companies coming up with luxury caravans, though at a higher price and with wider use.

Bus coach manufacturer JCBL forged a technical tie-up with Italys PLA SLA to launch caravans in India only early last year. Under the tie-up, the caravans would be assembled in JCBLs plant located near Chandigarh and the chassis would be imported from Italy.

Aggarwal of JCBL says the reason behind the tie-up was broad-based. We have been doing a lot of motor homes in the past. However, with time we have realised that the technology used in our vehicles had become outdated, says Aggarwal. With the partnership with PLA SLA, which has an experience of over 50 years in making motor homes, JCBL hopes it would be able to offer some of the most hi-tech facilities to the customers.

After polls

What happens to the vehicles after the elections are over Tapadia of DC Design says: Even if the election campaign vehicles are seasonal, they can be used for other purposes like family vacations and picnics, among others.

Kolkata-based PCP is of the view that the vehicles can be used for tourism and other purposes. However, its director of business development, Poddar, feels lack of private initiatives are obstructing their plans.

We have sent our proposal to the Gujarat and Rajasthan governments for use of these caravans in the tourism sector and are awaiting approval. We have also written to the ministry of tourism for use of these vehicles in caravan tourism, but lack of private operators is hindering our plans, he laments.