Called modern-day 'raths', the chariots that once drove fighters to battle, these converted caravans equipped with all facilities are helping top politicians ride the campaign trail in the gruelling elections.
From L K Advani, Bhupinder Singh Hooda and Amarinder Singh to Parkash Singh Badal, Om Prakash Chautala and Y S Rajasekhara Reddy, leaders of all hues are using these vehicles manufactured in Lalru, 30 km from state capital Chandigarh.
Coach builder JCBL has acquired a reputation among political parties for providing luxury coaches that are converted into campaign caravans. These special application vehicles boast of ACs, heaters, a toilet, mini-kitchen and even an elevator.
"We fabricate these vehicles on the special demand of political parties and leaders. They are basically used during election campaigns. But I cannot tell the names of politicians who have bought these raths or have given orders to us," M S Grewal, head of JCBL's marketing division said.
"These vehicles are ultra-modern and, depending on the needs and demands of the client, we can include or exclude any feature in them. A special application vehicle could have an elevator, ACs, heaters, toilet and mini-kitchen inside," he said.
The facilities include bulletproofing, luxury beds or sofa-cum-beds, chemically-treated toilets, wash-basins, mini-kitchens, built-in loudspeakers, LCD screens, sun roofs, halogen lights and elevators.
JCBL officials refuse to divulge details of how much politicians splurge on these election campaign vehicles though estimates are that they can cost anything from Rs 2.5 million to Rs 10 million. The chassis of the vehicles is generally supplied by Punjab-based Swaraj Mazda.
"They are different from normal buses and come with exceptional features; so their cost is undoubtedly comparatively high and also varies with the demands of the person. However, I cannot disclose the exact amount," Grewal said.
Haryana Chief Minister Bhupinder Singh Hooda is one of the newest buyers of one such van from JCBL. "This rath is an easy way to reach the masses of Haryana," Hooda said in Chandigarh before embarking on his election campaign in the state recently.
Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister and Bahujan Samaj Party leader Mayawati has also placed an order for a similar election campaign van, JCBL sources said.
JCBL, which was incorporated in 1989 as an automobile fabrication unit, has emerged as a big name in the automobile industry in the country in the last few years.
Besides special application vehicles, JCBL is in the business of fabricating buses, election campaign vans, display vans, outdoor broadcasting vans, riot control vehicles, ambulances and mobile homes and offices. Its vehicles have been sent to other countries after fabrication in Chandigarh.