The same men who crafted special doors for Rajnikanth's entry in 'Padyappa', now make these campaign vans

When TN politicians campaign they travel fancy A peek into how campaign vans are made
news TN 2016 Wednesday, April 06, 2016 - 12:40

The whirring sounds erupting from the corner of a quiet neighbourhood where a bulky tempo van stands should have been indication enough. But we still manage to miss the auto shop on a lane off Radhakrishnan Road, thanks to the disorienting Coimbatore heat which has arrived early. “We’re right here!” a handyman says, wiping away beads of sweat and signaling for me to come in.

The auto shop is Riyaz’s Seat Works. Sitting sternly at his desk, Riyaz is switching between Telugu and Tamil as he talks to clients. For the last three elections in 10 years, he’s been the go-to guy when political parties in Tamil Nadu want their vehicles up and running for the campaign trail. With the elections up for mid-May, shop is alive with a flurry of handymen tinkering around.

As I squeeze between vans, cautiously looking down to check for wires but tripping over them anyway, Kathir, the supervisor greets me chirpily. “That fancy van over there? The Volkswagen one? That’s the new party’s. They’re going all out this time.” The Inthiya Jananayaga Katchi (IJK) one of the parties in the NDA Alliance, has invested in the fanciest – a single tempo traveler fitted with Hella speakers, a sofa-cum-bed and a fully functional bathroom. 

A team is working on refurbishing an old van and fixing LED lamps. A cup of tea sits on the step of a ladder, getting warmer from the sun and looks just about ready to topple.


Besides basic amenities such as beds or sofas and toilets, campaign specials mostly involve hooking up an adjustable pedestal under a hatch on the roof. A chair is fixed to the pedestal, whose height is raised, so that politicians can make their speeches.

Friendly as Kathir appears, the only specifications that anyone will talk here are the requirements of the vehicles of parties. (They keep mum on the bills and expect you to do the same.)


The AIADMK, for instance, wants a swivel chair with a hydraulic lift and not a chair attached to a pedestal. Drilling holes, Kathir explains that the swivel chair would be at floor level and the hydraulic lift would raise the chair to the required height so that Jayalalithaa can address people. The pedestal on the other hand, is already at a raised height, making movement cumbersome.

Francis, who handles logistics, says fixing the lights on the pedestal is not as simple as screwing a bulb into a holder. “Leaders look different in the light. One accidental light placement, and they won’t look the same to you.” 

Kathir says their most loyal customer is the DMK. “They always go with the bare minimum. But everyone wants their tempos to be trailer vans now.”  


Cutting in, Francis says, "DMDK hasn't turned up yet, and the PWA has prepared very, very early. Hell, they're already done with their vans." More politicos are expected to knock - or more aptly - push through the sliding doors that lead to his office to get their vans readied. "But the deadline doesn't change, so there's more pressure." 

Some distance away from the vans, a young man and his father tinker away, surrounded by scraps of metal and tin sheets. Babu is sprightly, getting up to check on the lights every few minutes, and his son Mithun says he’s a man hard at work even while everyone else takes their afternoon siesta.

“You know those doors in Padayappa, which were specially made for Rajnikanth to walk through? Appa made those,” Mithun says, cracking into a smile. 

During the two months that the campaign season lasts, all of them work like a well-oiled machine. “We love the season, but we don’t love the deadlines,” Francis quips with a chuckle.


Their break for now, is passing around a bottle of water. Taking a sip, Francis says that an upside is getting to meet politicians. DMK treasurer Stalin often drops by to keep tabs on the progress of vehicles the party has ordered.

“Leaders are leaders, but we make their seats and beds and curtains, and when we meet them in person, they don’t seem so fantastical to us then. They’re just like us, and that makes us like them more.”


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