In the rising heat of the political battle for five states, the air conditioner is fast becoming a refrain in Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi’s speeches slamming the BJP.
Be it in Alwar or, most recently, in Bundelkhand, he used it to claim that the Congress is grounded in reality. Whereas, the BJP’s is a politics of those with air conditioners, in other words, disconnected and elitist.
There’s a slight problem with this: the facts don’t warm up to such rhetoric.
Air conditioners are no more an exclusive preserve of the privileged, if that is what Rahul was trying to convey. And he doesn’t have to look beyond his humble party headquarters in the capital for evidence.
The Lutyens’ building on Akbar Road has at least 30 split and 20 window ACs to help the grand old party keep its cool, with just two air-coolers for company - one of them meant for the guard at the gate.
While it might be tempting to attribute that to the comfort with which the party has been in power for nearly a decade, figures from the country’s AC industry have an interesting story to tell. One of rising incomes and aspiration in towns far away from Akbar Road.
The AC market has grown at a compounded annual rate of 17 per cent over the last three years, according to management consulting firm Kanvic and the All India Air-Conditioning & Refrigeration Association — to Rs 17,600 crore in 2011-12 from Rs 11,000 crore in 2008-09.
While ACs are still found only in a mere 3.8 per cent of the estimated 31 million households, the spread to smaller cities and towns, where incomes have risen, is key to the surge — Tier-II and Tier-III towns such as Meerut, Rajkot, Nashik, Allahabad, Vijayawada, Guntur, Salem, Jabalpur, Amritsar, Nellore, Roorkee and Kollam.
Industry experts say penetration into semi-urban areas is also sharply increasing, riding on a rapid drop in prices and a marked improvement in the quality and quantity of power supply across most states, especially in the northern and western heartland.
Besides, there has also been a shift in the consumers’ perception of ACs from being a luxury to a necessity as they get accustomed to AC environments at work, in cars and even public transport.
Until 1990, India had only four pairs of fully AC trains: the two Rajdhanis connecting Delhi to Howrah and