Between 1967, when he fought and won his first election, and 2008, Ramcharan Singh Deo, 79, has been a legislator six times.
Widely seen as an incorruptible MLA — a rarity in present day politics — Deo could probably guarantee a seventh win for his Congress party, looking to regain power in Chhattisgarh.
But this former maharaja, whose family ruled the erstwhile principality of Korea in North Chhattisgarh, has decided to call it quits. “I began my career in an age when ideas mattered in Indian elections,” he said. “Today you need vast sums of money to bribe people all around, and I cannot do that.”
As a vigorous election campaign raged across the state — the final phase of voting is on November 20 — Deo cut a small and lonely figure, walking around the untended grounds of his 80-room palace, built in the 1930s by his father. The austere man who uses only two of these rooms said, “Every candidate is resorting to caste, liquor, and money to win.”
In the neighbouring district of Sarguja, a malcontent lawyer cited the same muck in the state’s public life to justify doing just the opposite of Singh Deo — he is entering the electoral fray for the first time.
Amarnath Pandey is well known in his town of Ambikapur for taking on police excesses.
In a late-night meeting in a dimly-lit home, Pandey, 44, was fretting with a small group of fellow campaigners from the CPI.
“The BJP and Congress candidates (two former royals again) have more than a crore rupees to spend on this election,” he said. “I do not have any money to give you, or the voters. I only have my track record and the promise to end corruption in this constituency.”
“I am telling voters to elect me for a year. If they are not satisfied with my work, I will resign at the end of the year,” he told Hindustan Times. Pandey’s assets amount to less than Rs 2 lakh.
If he does not win, Pandey said, he will go back to his legal practice, and continue to represent victims of police torture.