Lok Sabha polls 2019: This election season, it’s all about the names
Electronic Voting Machines (EVM) to be used in the upcoming Lok Sabha elections will carry a candidate’s photograph along with his/her party’s symbol, chief election commissioner Sunil Arora said at a press conference while announcing the schedule on March 10 for this summers’ general elections.
“This will help avoid any confusion, which may arise when candidates with same or similar names contest from the same constituency,” he said. Political parties and candidates are concerned that these namesake candidates may cut into their vote share by confusing the voters. How big is the problem in India? An HT analysis suggests that while it may not be widespread, it is not insignificant either.
HT has looked at Lok Sabha and state assembly constituencies where at least two candidates had the same name. Only the elections held since 2014 have been analysed here. Several computerised algorithms such as N-Gram Fingerprint have been used to identify candidates with the same name but different spellings.
There were at least 23 constituencies in 2014 Lok Sabha elections where at least two candidates shared the same full name. In the state assembly elections held since 2014, there were at least 108 such constituencies across 19 states. Among them, there were two Lok Sabha and eight assembly constituencies with more than one group of candidates with the same name. To be sure, these may be underestimated figures considering a small margin of error in identifying multiple candidates with same name but different spellings. Tamil Nadu had the highest number of constituencies with multiple namesake candidates contesting the same seat, both in Lok Sabha and assembly polls. It was followed by Madhya Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh. The concern among the front-running candidates that their namesakes may cut into their vote share may be genuine.
The data shows that in 74 Lok Sabha and assembly constituencies, at least one of the top three contestants in terms of the vote share had to contest against at least one candidate of the same name.
However, none of these frontrunners lost because of their namesakes cutting into their votes. They either won the seat or lost with a margin greater than the combined vote share of their namesake candidates. This means that even if the voters would have voted for them instead of their namesake candidates, they would still have lost.
To be sure, this doesn’t mean the namesake candidates cannot play a significant role. For instance, the Bharatiya Janata Party’s Chandu Lal Sahu contested Chhattisgarh’s Mahasamund Lok Sabha seat in 2014 against Congress’s Ajit Jogi. But there were seven other independent candidates named Chandu Lal Sahu in fray. Even as Sahu won the seat with a margin of 0.1% votes, the seat could easily have gone to the Congress had Sahu’s namesakes polled some more votes. The namesake Sahus together received 62,934 votes, or 5.6% of the total votes.
In other places too, top contestants faced more than one candidate with the same name. For instance, there were five candidates named Lakhan Lal Sahu in Chhattisgarh’s Bilaspur Lok Sabha seat and three candidates named Jarnail Singh in West Delhi Lok Sabha seat. In Punjab’s Zira assembly seat, Kulbir Singh of the Congress and Gurpreet Singh of the Aam Aadmi Party were among the top three contestants. Each of them had three more namesake candidates in the fray for the same seat.
The impact of the namesake candidates on top contestants may be much larger if candidates with similar but not the exactly same name are taken into account. For instance, names of two candidates in Chennai South Lok Sabha seat sound similar: “S.V.Ramani” and “S.Veeramani”. Even in the Mahasamund seat, where Sahu faced seven other candidates with the same name, there were five more candidates with names similar to his: Three Chandu Ram Sahus and two Moti Lal Sahus.
Multiple candidates with same name contesting for a single seat may or may not be a mere coincidence. In a country with about 1.3 billion population, many people are likely to have a common name. For instance, an electoral roll search on the Election Commission of India’s) website shows that Prime Minister Narendra Modi has at least 53 namesakes among registered voters across India. Congress president Rahul Gandhi has at least 390 namesakes. This means, given that a large number of people may have the same name, it is possible that two genuine candidates of the same name are in fray. At the same time, it also means that if someone wants to field a dummy candidate, it may not be difficult to find one.
But in any case, the ECI’s decision to print photograph of a candidate along with his name and election symbol on the voting unit can make it easier for the voters to identify the candidate they want to vote for.