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Campaign paraphernalia and aircraft are integral parts of electioneering process. However, changing times and stringent guidelines have started to take a toll on these industries; reports Nishikant
NISHIKANT | Issue Dated: October 5, 2016, New Delhi
Tags : Sadar Bazaar Delhi | Sukhbir Singh Badal | Akali Dal (Badal) | Congress | BJP | PM Modi |

It is said that Sadar Bazaar in the walled city of Delhi is a barometer of every festival in India. And it’s no exception when it comes to the festival of democracy: elections. It is therefore no surprise that when you go and meet the traders there, you find them abreast with the calendar of elections in India. They also know that Motilala Vora is the treasurer of Congress Party. Or that it is Ram Lal who is now a more powerful figure at 24 Ashok Road, and not the erstwhile treasurer Ram Das Agrawal. It is obvious as these are the people who loosen up parties' purse-strings for expenditure.

Needless to say, they are also aware of the proposal to hold simultaneous elections at the Centre and the States. Trader Umesh Arora, in between the brisk business, surprised me by saying that there are customers who are actually talking about such a scenario. Although they all maintain that details are hazy. The question was hence turned back on me, a journalist. I gave some ambiguous answer to the effect of it was impossible to be implemented in such a short time. Then, with a palpable anger, he said, “You never know what this government is up to. They have already destroyed most of the businesses. They are now hell-bent on destroying our business as well.” 

As far as electioneering and its paraphernalia are concerned, Ahmedabad, Surat, Mumbai and Kolkata are supposed to be the hub of businesses. However, Sadar Bazaar is truly the unofficial headquarter of this. One of the factors behind this is that most of the party offices as well as the office of Central Election Commission are in Delhi. And proximity brings business. That’s the mantra in Delhi. 

The entire business of this market is dependent on the effectiveness of campaign paraphernalia in influencing the voters. It will surprise one that from psephologists to the big shots of the advertising industries, everyone is regularly approached in order to keep a tab on what is in vogue these days. Everything that is needed to be done to be abreast of the latest trends in the sector, is being done here. After the elections, Powerpoint presentations are showcased at party headquarters on how a particular product affected the result in a particular election. Everything is professional.

Take for example this particular badge that caught the fancy of Sukhbir Singh Badal, scion of Akali Dal (Badal) in Punjab. He was so taken in by a particular badge that a writ was released asking all the members of the Party to wear that badge whenever they were in the field. This contract was bagged by a particular trader after he gave a very hard-hitting Powerpoint presentation at the Akali headquarters, and hammered the deal in.

The market is splattered with headgears, shawls, caps of all types and make, badges, cut-outs, flags and other kinds of stuff which are used extensively during the election campaign. Mostly, the unit price of these items is less because they are used mostly once in their lifetimes. Since the EC guidelines on these items are still vague, they sell a lot. During the Assembly Polls, every candidate from a party gets around Rs 1 lakh worth of such paraphernalia from their respective parties. This ballpark figure of course varies.

The Congress for example gives Rs 2 lakh worth items to every Lok Sabha candidate fighting on its ticket. The corresponding figure for BJP is also same. The importance of these items cannot be underestimated. A case in point is a particular letter (see overleaf image) by a state unit of All India Forward Block that ws sent to the CEC, where it was revealed that the unit spent all the amount that it was issued from the central office on electioneering paraphernalia only. Every last cent of it. This example only strengthens the importance of these items.

There are other interesting inputs from Sadar Bazaar as well. For example, while Congress cut down on its expenditure during Bihar elections as it fought on very few seats, the BJP increased its expenditure by over 50 percent as soon as Prime Minister Modi was declared the star campaigner for the Party.

BJP has taken this to a different level. The Party of image management depends heavily on events. Therefore, a cleverly designed milieu is created around each of its public rallies, where each and every aspect from gates of the venue to flags to colours of the stage is meticulously designed. These methods are the result of clever planning and calculations. But this also brings more business for traders dealing with campaign paraphernalia. One of the traders mentions that headgears are distributed in such a way that the venue appear to be jam-packed, even though that might not necessarily be the case. Apparently, says the trader, in well-rehearsed moves, when PM Modi asks for people's support in the rally, the supporters are asked to raise both hands. Adorned with flags and scarfs, this apparently gives the impression that there’s a sea of saffron. While this may or may not be the case on the ground, the turnover of these traders is positively affected.

Another important aspect of electioneering is aircraft. Private jets for star-campaigners and Bell helicopters for not so starry campaigners are part and parcel of the process. If one includes around 125 odd aviation companies and industrial houses, we have a total of 125-150 small to medium jets, fixed-wing planes and helicopters lifting off during these times. Like every other industry waiting for the elections; this niche aviation sector is also waiting for the up-oming Uttar Pradesh elections. Although this sector has more reliable and regular clients in the form of people seeking air-ambulance, religious-tourism, as well as those from the corporate sector, they still look for the election season to achieve their bottom- and toplines. But the recent increase in ATF, landing charges and tarmac charges has put pressure on their bottom-line. The recent tightening of scrutiny by CEC has also forced the Parties to cut down on the spending over air-travel.

If a party hires a helicopter for a campaign, it has to pay an equivalent of Rs 3 lakh per hour. If the ride is inter-state, the corresponding figure increases to Rs 5 lakh. Although the figures vary, for every state election, a well-paced company gets a contract for a month and a half with 2-3 hours of service daily. The contract comes anything between Rs 2 crores to Rs 6 crores. 

In the last Lok Sabha elections, Modi used to do 3-4 public rallies in a day. For this, a Challenger 605 Bombardier Plane belonging to Adani Group was hired. On the other hand, Sonia and Rahul Gandhi did over hundred rallies each, and had hired variously GMR Group’s Falcon 2000 as well as Jindal Group owned Bombardier Global 5000 (Luxury), Dassault Falcon 7X, Cessna XLS Citation, Cessna Citation Jet, Bell 407, Bell 429, AugustaWestland Power 109 etc. The culture to hire a massive fleet for campaigning was started by BJP in the early 90s under L K Advani. In fact the octogenarian from Karachi holds several informal records in this department including remaining in air for the longest period in a day as well as during an entire election campaign.

The 12-seater Bell 412 helicopter is in vogue these days. The 8-seater Falcon 2000, which goes for Rs 2,80,000 per hour, however still catches the fancy of Congress leaders somehow. This is also the costliest to hire, apparently. Both Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi prefer this plane. The Falcon 7 is a better plane in comparison, but that also means that it burns a bigger hole in the pocket. A Rs 4,00,000 size hole, to be precise. The 8-seater Hawker 900 goes for Rs 3,00,000 per hour whereas the corresponding figure for the Hawker 850 is less than Rs 2,00,00 per hour. The Citation Jet is cheaper at Rs 1,35,000, whereas the B 200 is the cheapest in the lot and goes for less than Rs 1,00,000 per hour.  The last one is the Turboprop, which can land at even the minutest of runways.

But things are not looking good for the sector. After PM Modi was declared the star campaigner, it is only him who gets the luxury of hiring aircraft. In the Bihar elections, only Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi hired planes and helicopters. The others were dispatched via road. Some important leaders pooled their rides on the same plane. Things were better before the CEC guidelines, when BJP- and Congress-aligned industrial houses used to give away planes for the campaign for their respective parties. Not any more...

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Issue Dated: Feb 5, 2017