Kochi: Literacy is touted as a force multiplier for democracy the world over, but in Kerala, many candidates see it as the bane of their electoral prospects.
In the southern state, which has a literacy level of 90.86% according to the 2001 census, the election symbols of political parties such as the hammer, sickle and star (Communist Party of India-Marxist, or CPM) and the hand (Congress) do not mean much for every voter and at least some of them prefer to cast their votes after reading the names of candidates on the ballot papers.
And, this is one “weakness” which the political parties have been using to their advantage. They get the namesakes of rival candidates to file nomination papers to confuse voters.
Name game: Diplomat-turned-politician Shashi Tharoor, who is contesting from Thiruvananthapuram, has a rival in one Sasi Tirur. Munshi Ahmed / Bloomberg
If there had been no V.S. Sudheeran in the fray for the 2004 Lok Sabha elections in the coastal constituency of Alappuzha, the Congress leader and former Kerala speaker V.M. Sudheeran would have won the poll. His little-known namesake got 8,281 votes and the Congress leader’s defeat margin to K.S. Manoj of the CPM was just 1,009 votes.
V.S. Sudheeran was an independent candidate, and probably put up by the CPM to cut votes of the Congress leader. Had the voters gone by symbols—hand of the Congress and not the shuttle cock of the independent candidate—the confusion could have been avoided.
“It’s high time the election commission intervened since the presence of these namesakes takes away all the seriousness of the election and goes against the will of the people,” says Sudheeran the Congress leader, who is not contesting polls this time.
“The Election Commission should convene a meeting of all political parties to ensure that they don’t resort to such unethical practices. It can’t be denied that political parties are behind the namesakes or shadow candidates entering the fray,” says Sudheeran.
The Left Democratic Front, or LDF, led by the CPM, had a clean sweep in the last Lok Sabha elections, bagging 18 of the 20 seats. It could have got one more but for the namesakes. In Muvattupuzha constituency, CPM candidate P.M. Ismail lost to P.C. Thomas, the former minister of state representing the Indian Federal Democratic Party which was part of the Bharatiya Janata Party-led National Democratic Alliance, by 529 votes. There were quite a few other “Ismails”—all independent candidates—and collectively they mopped up 3,569 votes.
It was not a cakewalk for P.C. Thomas, too, as there were two other “independent” Thomases, and between them they got 5,189 votes.
Political parties claim that they have no clue who puts up these candidates. Most of them are never seen in the constituencies they fight for. At least some of them could be contesting on their own, hoping that the more popular candidates bearing the same name might offer them money to keep them out of the fray.
This time around, the capital city of Thiruvananthapuram, from where Sashi Tharoor, the diplomat-turned-politician, is contesting on a Congress ticket, already has a Sasi Tirur in the fray, an independent who Congress activists say is “not reachable”. Similarly, in Kottayam, three-time member of Parliament Suresh Kurup of the CPM has two other independent Suresh Kurups to fight with. And the United Democratic Front candidate Jose K. Mani, son of Kerala Congress leader K.M. Mani, will have to fight it out with a few Manis in Kottayam.
Almost all the constituencies in Kerala have one or more namesakes and all of them are independent candidates. Peethambara Kurup of the Congress in Kollam, Anto Antony of the Congress in Pathanamthitta, K.S. Manoj of the CPM in Alappuzha, M.B. Rajesh of the CPM in Palakkad, P.K. Biju of the CPM, N.K. Sudheer of the Congress in Alathur, P. Sathidevi of the CPM and M. Ramachandran of the Congress in Vadakara, K. Sudhakaran of the Congress and K.K. Rakesh of CPM in Kannur will all have to deal with their namesakes in coming elections. Even the controversial Ponnani seat where the Communist Party of India and the CPM had a tiff over selection of candidate, there are four Hussains pitted against LDF-supported Hussain Randathani. The Muslim League candidate Mohammed, Basheer, too has another Basheer to fight with.
The political parties are hopeful that the voters will be more careful this time and they are banking on the fact that names of the candidates of recognized parties will appear first on the ballot papers.
Sunil Kumar and P. Ramachandran, both LDF supporters in the erstwhile Muvattupuzha constituency, admit that they committed a blunder last time as they looked for the names of candidates and not their election symbols. “This time I will be careful for I know there is already a U.P. Joseph contesting against the LDF candidate U.P. Joseph of the CPM for the Chalakkudy constituency,” says Sunil.