Whether you call it a travesty of democracy or a mere political strategy, every party in Kerala has played this trick at one time or another.
During the elections, individuals with names very similar to that of powerful political candidates are fielded to confuse voters and rob the deserving person of precious votes. And in the run-up to the state assembly polls, candidates of this kind – called namesakes – have reared their heads in as many as 40 constituencies across Kerala.
To cite a few examples, a G Sabarinathan has been put up against sitting MLA KS Sabarinathan in Aruvikkara assembly seat of Thiruvananthapuram district; an NA Waheed is facing sitting Congress MLA MA Waheed in Kazakootam; and the CPI’s C Divakaran is facing another C Divakaran in Nedumangad.
Though a couple of the namesakes may withdraw their papers after a bargain is struck, most will remain in the fray – causing undue worry to genuine candidates. They usually disappear after filing their papers, and political parties tend to keep them in safe houses to avoid undue publicity and pressure.
In 2009, Allapuzha Congress candidate VM Sudheeran lost by a narrow margin of 1,000-odd votes after a namesake – VS Sudheeran – reportedly stole 8,832 of the votes meant for him.
In order to scupper the chances of namesakes, the election commission has decided to display the photographs of candidates along with their names on voting machines. However, sceptics say the plan may not work because the images are too small for voters with poor eyesight to identify.
Election officials say they are helpless beyond a point. “If a candidate carries a similar name, we can only make slight changes to prevent confusion. We can’t prevent his/her right to contest,” said a senior official.