Sat, 27 Apr 2019

The no-hopers, dead or alive, in India's election

News24
12 Apr 2019, 22:12 GMT+10

Jubilant about his impending defeat, Fakkad Baba is one of a colourful host of no-hoper candidates in India's mega-election to throw their hat in the ring every time.

This election will be Baba's 17th on the ballot. He keeps running because his guru has predicted victory will come on his 20th attempt.

"This is like a staircase. I am on the 17th stair, and three steps away from a win," the Hindu preacher told AFP in the holy city of Mathura in northern India.

Anyone in the nation of 1.3 billion people who is over 25 and does not have a criminal conviction can stand in the election.

The vote began on Thursday and runs until May 19, with thousands of candidates standing for just 543 seats.

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At the last election in 2014, almost 90% of the 8 200 hopefuls did so badly they forfeited their deposits.

Each time the registration fee rises, but each time there are more and more candidates.

Baba fought his first election in 1976 when his spiritual mentor urged him to enter politics and champion cows, a sacred animal in Hinduism.

The plucky young candidate was not successful, as predicted, but his passion for politics was ignited.

Over the next more than four decades, Baba entered - and lost - another 15 polls at state and national level. But with each defeat, he remained convinced that victory inched closer.

Election king

On the other side of the country in southern India, K. Padmarajan is also busily readying his dead-in-the-water campaign.

The 60-year-old doctor from Tamil Nadu has contested and lost 201 elections, many of them unwinnable battles against powerful incumbents and party heavyweights.

Last time he ran against Narendra Modi, the leader of the Bharatiya Janata Party who stormed to power and became prime minister with the first outright majority in decades.

Padmarajan secured just 6 200 votes.

This time he's against Rahul Gandhi - the leader of the Congress party - and a serious contender for prime minister of India.

"Indian democracy is unique in the sense that it gives ordinary citizens the right to challenge political bigwigs," the self-professed "election king" told AFP.

But it comes at a price. All that electioneering has cost the hopeful a cool three million rupees ($44,000) in candidate enrolment fees.

The running dead

Santosh Singh is also trying to get noticed in the looming polls - but for very different reasons.

Singh is officially listed as deceased on government records, his family having registered his death certificate in 2003 to cheat him out of land.

As bizarre as it seems, such scams are not uncommon in India.

But Singh is more determined than most to prove his existence, running unsuccessfully in three other state and national polls to raise his profile.

"I want to prove I am alive," Singh told AFP at the New Delhi tea stall where he works, far from the holy city of Varanasi where he plans to run in the 2019 election.

"My fight is not just against the system but also against those running the system."

History of jokers

India has a rich history of no-hoper candidates, stretching almost back to the country's first national election in 1951.

Rangaswamy, from southern Karnataka - who went only by one name - lost 86 elections between 1967 and 2004, earning him a Guinness World Record title for a time.

He had a stiff contender in Kaka Joginder Singh, a contemporary who tried his hand at roughly 300 different elections over 30 years, losing every single one.

The closest Singh, a textile mill owner from north India, came to victory was in presidential elections in 1992, when he came fourth.

Both these veterans have passed away but their legacy lives on in spirited modern-day equivalents like Baba, who is confident he will reach parliament - either in this life, or the next.

"My guru has predicted my victory. I will go to parliament even if I am on a hospital stretcher or a pyre," said Baba.

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