Politics has always been interesting, and in Indian politics, the entertainment and drama never seems to cease. You have like-minded parties forming alliances, parties vying with each other, aya-rams and gaya-rams, and amidst all this a rising trend of independent candidates. The system of politics in India has facilitated the rise of a number of political parties—in fact over 200 political parties are currently registered with the Election Commission. Due to serious infighting within the parties, there has been a proliferation of many splinter groups. This has also resulted in an increase in the number of independent candidates.
The Indian voter has generally not supported independent candidates. Apart from siphoning votes that would otherwise go to a political party, independent candidates do not usually stand a chance of winning.
Meet Dr K Shyam Babu Subudhi, a certified Homeopath of Brahmapur in South Odisha. Dr Subudhi has been contesting elections in Odisha since 1962 as an independent candidate. He has contested 25 elections since 1957 and lost them all. People normally run after success but this man has a passion for defeat! He has lost all the 26 elections in his political career spanning over five decades, yet he wants more. It seems that he is a glutton for punishment.
“I’m hardly concerned about personal defeats; rather the defeats give me immense pleasure since they are for a great cause. It gives me enough satisfaction to see that I have been able to bring the issues of the masses to the knowledge of the political parties,” he says.
In the present political scenario, where the Aam Aadmi Party has set a cat among the pigeons, Subudhi’s name should be on the honour roll of democratic India’s electoral history. He has tried 15 attempts to the Lok Sabha and 10 to the State Assembly, in the process crossing swords with heavyweights like late former Prime Minister PV Narasimha Rao in 1996. He has also contested against the late Chief Minister Biju Patnaik as well as his son and current Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik.
What draws this veteran octogenarian to fight elections and forfeit his deposits? While people call him a maverick they agree that the voice of a lone individual must be heard in the world’s biggest democracy. He polls a very few votes, but that has not deterred the 74-year-old from trying his luck again in the upcoming Lok Sabha polls this year. He has already started his campaigning, this time he intends to contest as an independent candidate from two the Lok Sabha constituencies of Aska and Brahmapur.
Long experience of electoral politics has made Mr Subudhi stoic. He has absolutely no tension and is confident that this time he will surely win. He says that his long experience had made him rise above the anxiety related to win and loss. Shyam Babu uses public vehicles like trains and buses to travel from place to place during his campaign. For him, running for elections is not a burden; he is one candidate which the election officials can be certain will stick to the Model Code of Conduct.
He is usually seen campaigning on a bicycle, dressed in a black coat cut in the style that was in fashion when the Congress freedom fighters used to wear during the Quit India Movement. Unlike other candidates, he does not have to set agents for booths and did not believe in behind the curtain measures in politics.
According to him, people can take cue from him and general public can dare to enter electoral battle. He alleged that the people seem to have forgotten to elect a representative who is one among them and politicians seem to have got detached from the common masses. He criticises the rise of cunningness, money power, muscle power and patterns of imperialistic attitude among candidates in Indian politics.
Indian polls have seen as many as 37,440 independent candidates in the past 14 general elections since Independence. Many of them threw their hat into the ring because they genuinely wanted to get their voices heard, a few were disgruntled rebels whose sole aim was to queer the pitch for their erstwhile party’s nominee and many were simply attracted by the fame and headlines they made.
However, only 214 of them—less than one per cent, could make it to the Parliament while 36,573 lost their deposits. Dr BR Ambedkar is arguably the most illustrious among the independent candidates.
Over 90 per cent of independent candidates forfeit their deposits in every election. The deposit, which is now Rs 10,000, is forfeited if the candidate gets less than one-sixth of the valid votes polled. In 2004, only 15 independent candidates could retain their deposits, while 2,370 lost the amount. The first Lok Sabha election had 37 independent MPs, the number swelling to 42 in the 1957 poll. But since then, there has been a gradual decline, in the 2009 polls there were only 9 independent MP’s. Indians do make a lot of noise against the crorepati candidates, but are contented to sending crooks, castetist, fanatics, flatterers, corrupt and nepotists into office. There were independent candidates, made famous by the Dharti Pakads, who, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh feels, are mere “spoilers” who should not be voted for. Nagarmal Bajoria, aka Dharti Pakad, a small time business man from Patna lost all the 280 elections in his political career spanning over four decades. He unsuccessfully fought against another former prime minister Atal Behari Vajpayee from Lucknow and also filed nominations for presidential polls which were rejected. He held the unique distinction of contesting elections from most states of the country, including the trouble-torn Jammu and Kashmir.
“Independents will be spoilers. I would like to tell the people of Mumbai to be careful not to encourage independent candidates. They are spoilers and they will not win an election,” the Prime Minister had said in Mumbai a few years back.
Mallika Sarabhai, who had taken on veteran LK Advani from the affluent Gujarat constituency of Gandhinagar in the last elections says, “Democracy is all about people. But in our parliamentary democracy everything has been hijacked by the political parties and the people have been left to fend for themselves. So independent candidates like me have an important role to play — to liberate and reform democracy.”
In the 1996 Polls, Dr K Padmarajan, from Mettur in Tamil Nadu had filed nominations for five Lok Sabha seats and three Assembly seats in five states against late Prime Minister Narasimha Rao in Nandyal, Tamil Nadu Chief Minister J Jayalalithaa in Bargur, MOH Farook in Pondicherry and T Govindan of the CPI(M) in Kasaragod. After that, the Constitution was amended restricting a candidate from filing nomination in not more than two constituencies.
Last year, he wanted to contest against Chief Minister Jagadish Shettar as an independent candidate from Hubli-Dharwad constituency for the Karnataka Assembly polls, but his papers were rejected as he was not listed among the voters in the constituency. He has made attempts to contest against President Pranab Mukherjee and former presidents Pratibha Patil, KR Narayanan and APJ Abdul Kalam. Since 1988, he has taken on 24 Lok Sabha members, 28 Rajya Sabha members and 46 MLAs. However, his defeats did not deter him from finding an entry in the Limca Book of Records as the “Most Unsuccessful Candidate”.
Kaka Joginder Singh, who too took on the alias Dharti Pakad, had started his poll-losing career in 1962—Kaka stood for the Lok Sabha from Bareilly. He had lost 25 straight elections and forfeited his security deposit which he now says he has donated to the nation. Armed with a masters in sociology and philosophy. the businessman has even contested the presidential poll twice. He challenged Giani Zail Singh in 1982 and also opposed President R Venkataraman.
Political chicanery and trickery has led to fielding of independents with names similar to the main candidates to confuse the voters, especially common in Kerala. This was evident when the Congress candidate from Alappuzha, VM Sudheeran, lost by less than 1,000 votes in 2004, and his namesake, VS Sudheeran, had polled over 8,000. Mission accomplished! The confused voter played into the hands of the poll tricksters.
By Anil Dhir