‘Election tourism’ was a growing niche segment as Indian elections had now gained global significance, said Manish Sharma, Owner of Akshar Travels. He explained that visiting an ongoing rally, meeting political leaders and connecting with them were some of the elements of the experience on offer. The trend was expected to intensify as India’s stature and bilateral connect grew with time, he argued. Excerpts from an exclusive interaction.

The election season is upon us. With hundreds of political parties canvassing for 543 parliamentary constituencies and 900 million voters, it is an enormous democratic exercise, unmatched elsewhere in the world. The extent of the undertaking is increasingly attracting global attention as major TV news channels continue to line up, broadcasting elaborate reports on the election proceedings. Such a positive interest in India’s chaotic and noisy, yet smooth election process has created a new interest among global citizens. People are increasingly beginning to travel to India to experience it first-hand, giving a fillip to a new tourism segment in ‘election tourism.’

Manish Sharma, the founder of Akshar Travels, is a pioneer in the business and runs a thriving tourism agency based in Ahmadabad. He is an old-industry hand and the brains behind the ‘Modi tourist circuit’ in PM’s birthplace in Mehsana, Gujarat. Reflecting on the trend, he credited PM Modi’s personal effort in popularising the concept. “PM’s involvement has helped in spreading the message the world over,” he said, speaking with us over the phone. “Secondly, India’s global image as a nation has gone up. India’s branding as a nation has given it a distinct stature. It has created a new level of awareness about the country, compared to 2014 general elections,” he explained.

He argued that people had already experienced many facets of tourism and India was uniquely poised to cultivate election tourism segment as an important segment in its offerings. “No nation can emulate this concept, no matter what,” he asserted, explaining that Indian election was a major exercise. “It offers thrill, excitement, drama and all elements of experience,” he said. Such was the excitement that people had been calling to inquire about PM Modi’s election rally schedule to book tours coinciding with his visit. A group of 700 people from the USA had recently booked a tour, he informed, adding that while all of them were American citizens, there were many from Indian lineage. Much of the business came from the USA, UK, Japan, Germany and France, with Kenya being latest in the fray, we were told.

A tour package consisted of regular sightseeing, coupled with an on-ground experience of a live political rally. “We have never ever faced a security issue with our foreign guests. Political workers of all parties take it upon themselves to ensure a pleasant experience for our guests,” he told us. It was mutually beneficial as foreigners added extra charm to political gatherings, he said. “62 foreigners attended the rally of Amitbhai Shah, held recently in Gandhinagar, and it was a wonderful sight. It certainly adds more attraction to the rally,” he argued. 

As a part of the experience, visitors were also given an opportunity to interact with politicians in a more private environment, over a group lunch or dinner, he said. The agency had already roped in political parties, across the spectrum, including BJP, Congress, AAP, SP and Shiv Sena to widen the ambit of the experience, Manish Sharma said.

Election tourism is a rather unique concept but fits well in a colourful and vibrant democracy like India. It is naturally expected that the segment will find much greater traction as India’s economic and bilateral outreach further intensifies. Manish Sharma predicted that the visitor headcount could reach a million mark by the next general elections. We sure do hope so.