Hop on to election tour circuit, watch the democracy in making as Karnataka waits to vote on 12 May

Mysuru: In Mysuru, which sees a surge of tourists in May, a novel experiment in tourism is being attempted on the back of one of the most important state elections this year. The usual diet of zoos, palaces and temples aside, tourists in Mysuru this season can now choose to understand intimately the Indian electoral process, a source of endless fascination for even those inside the country.

The new tourism package is apparently the brainchild of eight-time president of Mysore Travels Association and the proprietor of Safe Wheels travel agency, B S Prashanth, who was inspired by such campaigns in Kerala and Gujarat. Under the package, there are now full and half-day audio-guided election tours in open jeeps that give tourists a taste of the vibrancy and passion around elections.

BJP workers taking part in Jana Suraksha Yatre in Bhatkal, Karnataka. Twitter@BJP4India

Representational image. Twitter@BJP4India

Prashanth feels that Mysuru could do better justice to election tourism than any other place in India, where this has been attempted before.

Much to explore around Mysuru

"I saw a YouTube video from a travel agent in Gujarat, and realised we could do so much more. We have key constituencies like Chamundeshwari and Varuna, which are always buzzing with activity during elections. In Mysuru, I can start the story from 400 years ago, from the age of kings to the democracy today. It adds a lot of context," says Prashanth.

The regular guides from the agency are often accompanied by a party worker, who takes the group through democracy in action, to translate the process. "Many of them don't know English, especially those from Japan and China," says Prashanth. "We tell them about the evolution of our ruling system. From the Kingdom of Mysore to the State of Mysore, incorporating our anthems, culture, practices, etc. Afterwards, on the road, we bring them up to speed on the current scenario – from Parliament to Assembly to Zilla and Gram Panchayats. Without all this background, they might not be able to sustain interest in the tour."

Groups travelling to a high-voltage constituency are told about the candidates and the issues there. "We take them to where roadshows are happening. They can listen to speeches by political leaders. We also took them to villages where rallies were being held so could they see how local leaders canvass for votes — things they don't see usually," he said. Rallies of top leaders like BS Yeddyurappa, Siddaramaiah and H D Kumaraswamy were quite popular amid the tourist.

The tourists also get a glimpse of things undemocratic. "We take them to tea stalls where casual political chats happen, so they can sit among them and be a part of the discussions. We tell them about some of the background machinations that go into winning elections. We see people collecting freebies from parties, and explain that this is common and a part of the system. Of course, pictures are forbidden. We give them party manifestos, brochures, pamphlets and show them videos related to political parties, so they get an idea of what works with voters here," says Prashanth.

Not a big success?

While Safe Wheels is the only operator in Mysuru who has taken up these tours, Prashanth says it's because there are very few who have open jeeps, necessary to make the tours a success. While he claims that clients were generally thrilled with the whole show, rivals say the experiment may not have been really successful.

"An initiative to take tourists around in an open jeep last Dasara might have prompted the launch of election tourism," says Mahadeva, a tour operator in the city. A part of the team that organised an open jeep tour in Mysuru has been trying to cash in on the elections too. But there are few takers because of the hefty charges, he said.

Even the tourism department, while being supportive, has reservations about the success of these tours. 'Election Tourism' may be a hit overseas, but will take time to gain popularity in Mysuru, a senior tourism department officer said. "It is a new concept here. The department would welcome such an initiative and if needed, help the operators by providing necessary permission or identity cards," he said.

With high security and scrutiny during election season, these permissions are crucial. It is advisable to inform the local police stations before setting off on campaign trails, especially when there are women and foreign nationals, to prevent any probable untoward incidents as political rivalry is at its peak, a senior police officer from Mysuru sub-division said.

Action packed polls raise security concerns

However, police officers say no such tourism developments were seen in the jurisdictions of Alanahalli, Yelwal, Nazarbad, Jayapura and Bilikere police stations in the district. Several checkposts have been set up across the district to monitor elections and keep a check on movements of vehicles.

In order to avoid any untoward incidents by taking foreigners to villages, and also to avoid confusion at checkposts since foreigners carry foreign currency and passports, it is advisable to discontinue this brand of tourism, the police officer said.

In any case, the tour initiative seems to have ground to a halt after the outbreak of violence and stone-pelting in Varuna, when BJP leader B S Yeddyurappa's son was denied a ticket, according to Prashanth. "After the announcement, we anticipated trouble so we avoided that area. But after that, many of our troupe managers and escorts are worried. There were a few cancellations too. The safety of our guests is our biggest priority," he said.

Ayswarya Murthy is a Bengaluru-based freelance writer and a member of 101Reporters.com, a pan-India network of grassroots reporters

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Updated Date: May 11, 2018 18:35:40 IST

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