In the Mathura Lok Sabha constituency in 2014, BJP candidate Hema Malini had to contend with two other Hema Malinis, who contested as Independents. The BJP had alleged that the Congress had planted the other Hema Malinis to confuse voters. One of the Independents withdrew. Hema Malini, 'The Dream Girl', feared that the school teacher Hema Malini, might get about 3,000 votes from people confused over the names. In the end, Hema Malini won the seat with a margin of 3.3 lakh votes over her nearest rival, Jayant Chaudhary of Rashtriya Lok Dal, while her namesake polled 10,158 votes.
And, of course, there was the classic case of Chandu Lal Sahu, the BJP candidate in Chhattisgarh’s Mahasamund constituency in the same election, who had to face as many as 10 namesakes - the real Sahu won.
But K Sudhakaran of the Congress was not as lucky in Kerala. Having won the Kannur seat in 2009, he lost it in 2014 by 6,566 votes, while two of his namesakes — K Sudhakaran Sreesai and K Sudhakaran Kollod —together polled 7,151 votes.
Hunting for people with the same or similar names and enticing them with money into contesting as Independents to split a rival’s votes is a dirty, old trick practised across India. But in Kerala, politicians have developed it into a fine art.
The new measure by the Election Commission — introduced from last year’s Bihar Assembly Election — to have the photographs of all candidates against their names on the voting machines has not stopped parties from fielding namesakes once again in a big way. There are a record number of 1,203 candidates in fray now for the 16 May election. There were only 971 candidates in the 2011 assembly election.
Take a look at just one district, Kannur in the north of Kerala:
- In Irikkur, along with Minister KC Joseph of Congress, there is a Joseph (without initials), an Independent.
- In Kannur constituency, there are three Satheesans: Satheesan M (Congress), Satheesan P and Satheesan EV (Independents).
- There are three Shajis in Azhikode: KM Shaji (Muslim League), Shaji KM and KM Shaji (Independents).
- Thalassery has two Abdullakuttys (one of the Congress and one Independent) and two Sajeevans (Sajeevan VK of BJP and Sajeevan VK, Independent).
- In Kuthuparamba, CPM’s KK Shailaja has to contend with two other ‘Shylajas’, Independents.
An exasperated Shailaja told Firstpost that one of the Shylajas had even managed to get herself the election symbol of dish antennae which when displayed as a small image on the voting machine, would look suspiciously similar to her own symbol of hammer and sickle (see picture). She alleged that the UDF (the ruling Congress-led United Democratic Front) had deployed the other Shylajas to “divert” her votes.
But in the same constituency, UDF minister Mohanan KP of JD(U) has the company of two others with the name of KP Mohanan. There are no prizes for guessing who has fielded them there. And no action can be taken against the namesakes, since they have a right to contest elections as long as they fulfill the necessary conditions.
Of the Kannur district’s 11 assembly seats, seven have dummies. In varying degrees, the story is the same in all the 14 districts of Kerala.
Rules 22(3) and 30(3) of the Conduct of Elections Rules-1961 provide that if two or more candidates have the same name, “they shall be distinguished by the addition of their occupation or residence or in some other manner”.
Even this rule never discouraged parties from deploying namesakes to eat into the rival votes. Candidates publicly decry the practice, but privately continue to indulge in it in election after election. In a state where narrow victories or defeats are not uncommon, every vote counts. In the 2011 Assembly Election, winners scraped through by margins of less than 1,000 votes in eight seats — the UDF won only four seats more than LDF and formed the government. The painstaking attention paid by parties in selecting candidates is matched by the diligence of these candidates in getting the namesakes of their rivals.
Foxing poll officials
“Dummies” can serve another purpose. Parties field them to dupe the Election Commission and spend more than the election expenditure ceiling, which was raised in 2014 from Rs 16 lakh to Rs 28 lakh for assembly candidates in bigger states and Rs 20 lakh in smaller ones.
In a circular sent to Chief Electoral Officers of the states on 7 January, 2009, the EC said:
“...but the fact remains that the practice of setting up of dummy candidates exists here and there. As per the feedback, the dummy candidates are normally set up for the following reasons:
- The vehicle permission taken in the name of a dummy candidate is actually used for the campaign of some other candidate in order to hoodwink the expenditure ceiling.
- On the poll day, the vehicles permitted for the dummy candidate and his election agent and others are actually used for some other candidate.
- The polling agents and counting agents of the dummy candidate actually function as the agents of the another candidate and thereby disturb the level playing field at the polling station and in the counting centre on the day of counting.
During routine checks in the past in many states, election officials found the campaign material of one candidate in another candidate’s campaign vehicle, clearly proving there was a dummy at work.
Officials deputed to oversee the election process express utter helplessness in controlling the menace. But the EC’s circular says: “A vigilant election machinery can always come to know about the so called ‘dummy candidate’ within the first few days of the election/campaign process. Whenever such information is received, the electoral administration should alert all the field functionaries, and a video recording of campaigning by such suspected dummy candidates should be done.”
The author tweets @sprasadindia
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Updated Date: May 18, 2016 18:21:36 IST