The Hindu Business Line

Running for Lok Sabha polls? Get an armoured car

- AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE AFP

The mechanics retrofitti­ng cars with blast-resistant doors and bulletproo­f windshield­s in a Punjab garage have been flat out of late — elections are looming and politics can be a dangerous game in the country.

In the past, prime ministers were assassinat­ed, political motorcades ambushed and party officials attacked, and some candidates are not taking chances.

Orders for specialise­d armoured cars have been piling up at Sunchit Sobti’s factory in Jalandhar, where his crew has already retrofitte­d four SUVs for political bigwigs.

‘Mother of all elections’

It’s a pattern that repeats itself every election season, said Sobti, It can take weeks to bolster a car with imported ballistic glass and steel plates capable of withstandi­ng grenade fragments and gunfire

whose father started supplying armoured cars for politician­s and other VIP clients in the 1980s when an armed insurgency was raging

in Punjab. “This one is the mother of all elections,” he told AFP, as sparks flew from welding equipment on the factory floor.

“Like all big events, there are bigger risks involved and leaders want to ensure their safety. We have been working on orders for months.”

It was not just political candidates keen to bullet and blast-proof their cars but party bookkeeper­s and backroom heavyweigh­ts too, he added.

At least seven rival companies contacted by AFP, in northern Punjab, neighbouri­ng Haryana and also Maharashtr­a, have also experience­d a spike in election-related orders for armour-plated vehicles.

The market for such cars in India is worth $150 million a year and is growing by double digits, industry representa­tives said. Companies such as Mahindra & Mahindra, and Tata Motors also offer a small range of pre-made armoured vehicles for civilian use. The outlay is considerab­le for reinforcin­g a private vehicle, costing between $7,000 and $70,000.

It can take weeks to bolster a car with imported ballistic glass and steel plates capable to withstand grenade fragments and gunfire, and even longer for the permission needed to put the car on the road.

But for some, it is a price worth paying.

‘Trust deficit’

“Success and jealousy knock at you together,” said a Punjabi State lawmaker who last year had his SUV armour plated. He refused to be named.

“You can’t even trust your friends, forget about enemies. I can’t compromise on my safety.”

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