And now, the great Indian election tour

March 3rd, 2009 - 3:41 pm ICT by IANS  

Bharatiya Janata PartyLondon, March 3 (IANS) A British public relations firm is offering to fly out Britons to India for an experience of the world’s largest - and most colourful - electoral exercise.

Saffron Chase, a London-based agency, has had queries from some 40 people - keen to experience the sights and sounds of an Indian general election - since making an impromptu offer during a pre-poll briefing last week.

“We have had businessmen, think-tanks, MPs, politicians and journalists asking us to take them for an election trip,” Vikas Pota, managing director of Saffron Chase, told IANS.

The agency held a briefing by Indian pollster Yashwant Deshmukh and Labour economist Lord Meghnad Desai at the British parliament Feb 25.

After the briefing, Pota wrote on his blog, “We’re organising a visit, for those interested, to India at election time to soak up some of the atmosphere by attending mammoth rallies (100,000 people minimum), and to see for ourselves the key issues that candidates face in their constituencies.

“Elections in any country are interesting to watch. In India, you’re assured a fantastic contest in which a billion people make their way to the polling booths to cast their votes electronically over a six-week period. India’s faith in democracy, itself, is worthy of celebration.”

It will be a first for Pota as well, who has seen several assembly elections but never a general election in India, arguably the greatest - and noisiest - electoral exercise in the world.

Pota said he got the idea from the high-profile campaigns of the recently US general election, when British MPs went over to the US for a first-hand taste.

“There is a natural interest in looking at close to 700 million people vote. The implications are huge… the demographics of India, the economics.”

Pota said he hoped to take the “delegation” around to rallies, where members will be able to acquaint themselves with the issues at stake.

The experience could prove to be a bit overwhelming for the visitors: India’s 714 million voters make it the world’s largest democracy. Britain has only around 44 million voters.

“Over here we struggle to fill a room with 50 people. Out there in India rallies of 100,000 are commonplace,” said Pota.

“But people will find it incredibly vibrant. You immediately get a sense of what the key issues are. There are no scripted election speeches. These speeches are made on the stump and can last up to an hour. I enjoy that side of it.”

Participants are also expected to observe the commonalities between British and Indian elections.

“One year in West Bengal, I heard a lot of women call centre workers complain about transportation. Some of these challenges are exactly the same, no matter where you are in the world.”

Similarly, Pota said, he found an echo of a British debate during the Gujarat assembly elections last year, when the state’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) charged the federal UPA government with being soft on terror.

“Law and order, policing, terrorism, unemployment and the state of the economy - these issues are same, whether in Britain or in India.”

India will pick a new government over five phases between April 16 and May 13, and the result will be declared May 16.

Six million civil officials as well as police and paramilitary personnel will oversee the conduct of the election, the 15th to the 545-seat Lok Sabha, the lower house of parliament.

(Dipankar De Sarkar can be contacted at

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