Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) president Amit Shah and nearly a dozen union ministers from Bihar who are the star campaigners for the BJP-led alliance are hopping from one place to another in helicopters.
Nitish Kumar addresses four to five rallies every day, helicopters for him being hired by his party in Bihar. Lalu Prasad speaks at five to six public meetings each day in Bihar.
And so are the key campaigners of the “Grand Alliance” of the Janata Dal-United (JD-U), the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) and the Congress including Chief Minister Nitish Kumar, Lalu Prasad and Sonia Gandhi.
Their rivals, including leaders of the Lok Janshakti Party (LJP), the Rashtriya Lok Samata Party (RLSP) and the Hindustani Awam Morcha (HAM), were the first to use helicopters in August and September, even before the assembly polls were formally announced, to attend Modi’s rallies in Gaya, Muzaffarpur, Saharsa and Bhagalpur.
According to leaders from different parties, nearly 20 helicopters from private firms have been pressed into service to ferry the star campaigners. Most helicopters have come from New Delhi- and Mumbai-based aviation firms. The average cost of hiring a multi-engine helicopter is Rs.2 lakh a flying hour.
Usually a star campaigner flies three to four hours a day to address rallies.
At present, 16 helicopters have been parked at the Patna, Bihar airport. “The helicopters are much sought after. They save time and enable the leaders to reach out to people in far away places in no time,” an official of the Patna airport said.
A BJP leader said the party had hired seven helicopters for campaigning. Its allies, the LJP and RLSP, have hired one each.
The JD-U, RJD and the Congress have hired two helicopters each.
Even Pappu Yadav, chief of the newly floated Jan Adhikar Party, has hired a helicopter to campaign.
BJP leader Sanjay Mauyunkh admitted that the helicopters pull crowds in rural areas. This gives an added advantage to the political leader.
Left leaders, including those of the CPI-M, CPI and CPI-ML, are the sole exception to the helicopter story.
CPI-M general secretary Sitaram Yechuri and CPI-ML general secretary Dipankar Bhattacharya use road and rail routes to campaign in places where they are contesting, not just because they don’t have the kind of money that other parties have but also to identify themselves more with the masses and their modes of travel.