In the 1951 general election — Independent India’s first — 1,874 candidates contested. Of these, 745 (39.7 per cent) fared so poorly that they had to forfeit their deposits. Since then, instead of being dissuaded by the humiliation, more and more have filed nominations and lost their deposits.
By the end of counting in the 1967 general election, 1,203 (50.8%) candidates of the 2,369 in fray that year had forfeited their deposits. The numbers have risen ever since, peaking in 1996 when 12,688 politicians lost their deposits. That year, 13,952 were in fray. To put the statistics in perspective, 90.9 per cent faced utter humiliation.
The idea of a deposit from candidates contesting polls was implemented with the aim of keeping out frivolous candidates. This deposit is forfeited if a candidate fails to secure at least one sixth of the total vote.
The poll panel also increased the deposit for general candidates. In the 1951 election the deposit was Rs 500 while in 1996 it was Rs 10,000. Despite that the number of candidates has gone up significantly.
Professor of sociology at Jawahar Lal Nehru University, New Delhi, Dipankar Gupta said, “Earlier getting an out of turn telephone connection was what prompted many to file nomination to contest elections. Even today I feel a good proportion of candidates may be looking for whatever privileges they may get as contestants.”
“There are many ego-centric individuals who file nominations for every kind of election — be it the club or general election. Many others jump in as they see politics through dreamy lenses,” explained Prof Gupta.
Often, political parties set up dummy candidates to cut into the opponent's vote bank. “Also, don't forget, people with names similar to leaders are thrown in to confuse voters,” the professor added.
However post-1996 election, the number of candidates filing nominations has dropped drastically.
Only 4,750 people contested the 1998 polls compared to 13,952 in 1996.