What's in a name? A lot, if you are a political heavyweight facing a flurry of namesakes in the contest for a Lok Sabha seat.
Chandu Lal Sahu, contesting Chhattisgarh's Mahasamand for the BJP, almost lost the seat, thanks to seven competitors who shared his name.
The 'real' Chandu Lal Sahu stood up to the occasion, but not without a scare, as Ajit Jogi of the Congress came within reach of his tally of 5,03,514. Jogi received 5,02,297 votes, only 1,217 behind.
There is no coincidence in this phenomenon. Using 'dummy' candidates is an old trick political parties pull to fool voters into mistakenly choosing the wrong candidate. The heat of the moment inside the polling booth does the rest.
Three Independent candidates by the name Chandu Lal Sahu in Mahasamand received more than 10,000 votes. A mere 1,217 of these votes could have spelled doom for the BJP's candidate. At least five other candidates with similar-sounding names tried to play spoilsport too.
"What can one do? It's a conspiracy by my rivals. But such gimmicks won't work," Sahu had told AFP after polling was held in his constituency. "Voters in my area are aware and I am confident they will vote for the right Sahu."
Political parties often scout for namesakes and then fund their election expenses in order to pit them against rivals in constituencies where a few hundred votes could swing the result.
The unknown candidate is given his or her party symbol, which is usually designed to look like the one used by the more famous rival.
Mahasamand wasn't the only constituency with several namesakes. In Kerala, the trick spoiled the chances of at least two candidates. In Kannur constituency, sitting MP K Sudhakaran of the Congress was defeated by a margin of 6,566 votes. Two namesake candidates — K Sudhakaran Sreesai and K Sudhakaran Kollod — got 3,306 and 3,845 votes respectively. Combined, these ballots could have meant a victory for the Congress candidate.
In Vatakkara constituency of the state, minister of state for home, Mullapally Ramachandran, scraped through with a wafer-thin majority of 3,306 votes. His main rival AN Shamseer's (CPI-M) shadow candidate, AP Shamseer, garnered 3,485 votes, ensuring the real candidate's defeat.
"It is a disturbing trend. These candidates are subverting the mandate. It is high time political parties and the election commission take note of this," Kerala Congress chief VM Sudheeran said. Poll officials, however, say they are helpless as they cannot prevent anyone from contesting.
"We put up a list of all contesting candidates next to their symbols outside every polling booth for awareness," Delhi's additional chief electoral officer Neeraj Bharati told AFP. "But it really boils down to the real candidates. They must do good propaganda and expose the proxy candidate," he added.
In Mathura, Bollywood actor Hema Malini was up against two other 'Hema Malinis'.
In Haryana's Hisar, Kuldeep Bishnoi faced seven namesakes. The sitting MP, however, had a safe victory margin of more than 30,000 votes. During the byelection to the Hisar Lok Sabha seat in 2011, Kuldeep Bishnoi had faced four namesakes.
Even prime minister-designate Narendra Modi briefly faced a threat from a namesake in his constituency in Gujarat's Vadodara. The unknown candidate pulled out fearing reprisals.
With inputs from AFP