The Telegraph
Saturday , May 10 , 2014
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Poll call of Independent XI

A hakim-cum-hypnotherapist with a formula for peace, a daily-wage worker who thinks the only vote he might get is his own, a cricket fan who chose to bat all by himself because his party wouldn’t play him, a trader trying to find out how democracy works and a namesake who doesn’t have time to talk about why he is in the mix.

Voters in Calcutta will be spoilt for choice this Monday, thanks to a curious line-up of 11 Independents crowding the candidates’ lists for Calcutta North and Calcutta South.

Devendra Pandey, who advertises himself as a “Unani hakim and established hypnotherapist”, says he is in the Calcutta North race to win. If he doesn’t, he aspires to meet Mamata Banerjee once and try hypnotherapy on her.

“No athlete joins a race to lose. But irrespective of my fate in the elections, I would like to meet Mamata. I am certain I will be able to help her become a patient listener,” Pandey, whose election planks are peace and security for women, said.

The “only hurdle” in his mission is money. “I don’t have as much money as them (his rivals). So I have made a CD of my speech and hired autos fitted with loudspeakers to go around carrying my appeal to the voters,” said Pandey, whose symbol is a “pen nib with seven rays”.

Badri Mondal, a daily-wage worker, is a reluctant candidate for the Calcutta South seat whose Rs 25,000 deposit came entirely from friends. “They coaxed me into filing my nomination. They even arranged for the deposit money. They told me that this experience would come in handy if I wanted to contest more elections in future,” he said.

Mondal’s declared assets would do Arvind Kejriwal proud. In an election where millionaire candidates are many, this Independent is worth Rs 23,423.

He hasn’t campaigned even for a day because that would mean forgoing his daily wage of Rs 250. “I will vote for myself,” Mondal said.

Cricket fan Rathindra Nath Roy, who says he “directs telefilms” for a living, is contesting as an Independent because the Congress chose Somen Mitra over him to bat for it in Calcutta North.

There is a second Saumen Mitra, a retired government employee, on the list.

So is the namesake there to contest or queer the pitch? “I don’t have time to talk. The funnel is my symbol is all I can say,” Mitra, a science graduate from Calcutta University, said on Friday.

For Sanjay Saha, the urge to join the fray originated from his desire to “change the legal system in India”.

The owner of a small gifts shop in Paikpara has chosen the gas stove as his symbol and wants to visit each house in his constituency before the campaign deadline. “Kintu elaka ta onek boro, dada (But the constituency is quite large),” he said.

Ashoke Biswas, a 63-year-old trader from Bhowanipore contesting the Calcutta South seat, took the leap of electoral faith out of curiosity. He wants to experience democracy “first hand”.

Unlike daily-wage worker Mondal, who hasn’t campaigned at all, Biswas has been seeking out friends and acquaintances since he started off two weeks ago. “For a person like me, it’s not possible to cover such a large area. So I am sticking to people I know,” he said.

His election affidavit states that he has about Rs 2,000 in hand and less than Rs 2 lakh in bank accounts.

Triangular Park resident Shamali Das’s financial status is similar but she is contesting two seats: Calcutta South and Jadavpur.

The 58-year-old has been making door-to-door visits in both constituencies, introducing herself to voters as a descendant of Rani Rashmoni. “I thought if I contested two seats, I might get lucky in one,” Das said.

Candidates taking the field to divide votes is among the commonest election strategies in the world’s largest democracy. Namesakes are the more popular choice.

“In the 1980s and 90s, backing dummy candidates with similar names was a common practice. Awareness being low, there was a perception that a section of the electorate might end up voting for the wrong candidate,” said an old hand at electoral politics.

But he couldn’t recall an instance of a dummy candidate decisively affecting the outcome of an election.

The practice isn’t limited to Bengal. In this election, former Punjab chief minister and Congress candidate Amarinder Singh is up against an Independent namesake in Amritsar. The second Amarinder Singh is a farmer.

In Vadodara, Independent candidate Narendra Babulal Modi is in the fray against the BJP’s candidate for prime minister. Even Hema Malini, who is contesting the Mathura seat, has a namesake to beat to reach Parliament.