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Hi-tech vehicles for polls

The election season has seen more revolutions than the introduction of electronic voting machines and campaigns through SMS and mobile phones.
PTI | By Shruti Rajan (Indo-Asian News Service), New Delhi
PUBLISHED ON APR 17, 2004 11:38 AM IST

The election season has seen more revolutions than the introduction of electronic voting machines and campaigns through SMS and mobile phones.

Even vehicles used for campaigning have changed from the jeeps traditionally favoured by Indian politicians for decades, leaving vehicle rental agencies high and dry.

The influx of the plush Toyota Qualis minivans into the election arena has quashed the humble jeeps and Maruti Gypsy vans traditionally used all over India for extensive campaigns.

Tough, spacious and with good mileage, the open jeeps and Gypsies had been hot property till a couple of years ago and a source of large-scale business for sundry dealers across the country.

RC Khanna, a vehicle dealer at Mayapuri in west Delhi, said: "We used to get orders from various political parties and we would give tenders to dealers in Rajasthan who brought the vehicles to Delhi."

Khanna and his brother today run a small second-hand car shop in Loha Mandi.

He admitted that earlier he used to earn a tidy sum of about Rs.60,000 from the 'side business' of hiring out jeeps to politicians during elections.

The narrow lanes of the Loha Mandi or iron market has more similar vehicle shops, besides smaller repair shops and shops selling tyres and spare parts run predominantly by Sikhs.

Till a few years back, most vehicle dealers here would rent vehicles to politicians for poll campaigns. And orders would flow in for hundreds of jeeps from across the country.

"Open roof jeeps were most in demand," said an aide who sat in Khanna's shop.

But the current election season and state assembly elections in December has seen politicians preferring to do most of their campaigning in the trendy Qualis minivans, wiping out the demand for the vintage jeeps.

This has caused Khanna and his counterparts in the rental business to close the doors on a once well-paying business.

"Qualis minivans cost around Rs.800 to hire for a day, whereas the jeeps and Gypsies are rented out for Rs.500. But the Qualis can carry more passengers and are available from local vendors," said Khanna.

His aide at the shop offered: "Another reason could be the new guidelines set up by the Election Commission. The campaigning costs have to be cut down and the number and details of vehicles used have to be given in beforehand."

But quite a few orders for jeeps were received from states like Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan too.

"The vehicles we supplied were private vehicles and hence can ply all over the country," Khanna said.

His aide added: "In villages in Madhya Pradesh, the roads are so narrow that only jeeps can be used to pass through them. Politicians have to travel to so many such places during campaigning."

Khanna said: "Since Delhi does not have too many narrow roads, politicians do not feel the need to resort to the jeeps when more comfortable options are available.

Khanna and many others like him are now reading the writing on the walls and shutting down a once well paying business.

But the aide begged to differ. "It was not worth it," he said. "These politicians would sometimes disappear without paying the bills and we are left with the headache of hankering them for the dues."

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