The Name Game
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The Name Game

April 13, 2024

Early this morning I was to meet the popular TV journalist Rajdeep Sardesai for a breakfast interview regarding the upcoming Lok Sabha elections in Mysuru-Kodagu region.

We agreed to meet at the now ‘must stop-over’ breakfast place for outsiders — Mylari Hotel in Nazarbad. I arrived first and settled into what I believed to be the ‘original’ Mylari.

A few minutes later, Rajdeep and his India Today team also reached. But they got off and entered another restaurant. They too had entered an ‘original’ Mylari! 

Not finding each other in our respective ‘original’ Mylaris, we stepped out, found each other and finally settled into a third ‘original’ Mylari, the “real original” Mylari as one of the waiters claimed. 

It turned out there are four ‘original’ Mylaris, all supposedly serving dosa ‘since 1938’ on Nazarbad Main Road! 

This multi-verse of Mylaris is sure to confuse dosa lovers, forcing most to choose the one they are closest to.

This ‘name-game’ to garner business is deployed to deceive and confuse voters too and it reminded me of Dr. C.N. Manjunath. 

Dr. C.N. Manjunath, the BJP candidate and popular Cardiologist, who is posing a serious threat to D.K. Suresh of Congress in the Bangalore Rural Constituency, has suddenly found himself requesting voters to look for the ‘lotus’ symbol and not just his name. Reason? ‘Namesake’ menace. 

Suddenly, four Manjunaths filed their nominations! Then three withdrew. Now one remains. Interestingly, he too is a doctor, albeit he has an honorary doctorate. Worse, this ‘doctorate’ doctor even has the same initial which makes him, Dr. C.N. Manjunath!

While Dr. C.N. Manjunath has a BJP party symbol to bank on as an identifier, Mandya MP Sumalatha had a tough time when she stood for elections in Mandya in 2019.

Many may recall when Sumalatha made her political debut in Mandya, so did Nikhil Kumaraswamy, the grandson of JD(S) supremo H.D. Deve Gowda. On the ballot, there were three other Sumalathas. Luckily the ‘original’ Sumalatha had her husband’s name ‘Ambarish’, which helped her.

Sumalatha went on to beat Nikhil Kumaraswamy by a margin of 1,40,000 votes but surprisingly the other three ‘duplicate’ Sumalathas, all of whom were independent candidates, managed to secure 20,203 votes! Imagine if it was a close election. The fake Sumalathas would have made a difference. That is why these namesakes are called ‘voter-cutters.’

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In Holenarasipur, senior JD(S) leader H.D. Revanna was faced by another H.D. Revanna. The original H.D. Revanna won the election with a margin of 3,152 votes against Shreyas M. Patel of INC. But the fake H.D. Revanna had managed to secure 2,061 votes. Had his namesake not stood for election, H.D. Revanna, the original, would have won by a margin of 5,213 votes.

In the 2018 Karnataka Assembly election, there were 28 Constituencies in Bengaluru alone which had more than one candidate with the same name! They were all independents.

This strategy of using voter-cutters is a pan-India issue. In Tamil Nadu, then CM O. Panneerselvam had to face four other O. Paneerselvams in Ramanathapuram. Hema Malini, contesting in Mathura, had to face two other Hema Malinis. In Kerala, in the 2016 Assembly election, of the 140 Assembly Constituencies, there were namesake candidates in 50 Constituencies. 

Rahul Gandhi, in 2019, had to deal with voter-cutters. Three Rahul Gandhis appeared after the original Rahul Gandhi had filed his papers!  

It’s indeed praiseworthy that they managed to find three Rahul Gandhis in Wayanad, Kerala, given that the surname ‘Gandhi’ is almost non-existent in that region. It was reported that one of the Rahuls was imported from another State. Interestingly, one of the three Gandhis was a Phonetic Rahul Gandhi as his name was spelt as – RaGhul Gandhi! 

Even Prime Minister Narendra Modi wasn’t spared. He too had a namesake, an independent candidate named Narendra Babulal Modi. This Modi had filed his nomination in 2014 from Vadodara Lok Sabha Constituency, but he withdrew at the last moment. 

In a close election, every vote makes a difference and these dummy candidates can cause damage and ruin futures.

In last year’s Karnataka Legislative Assembly polls, Congress’ Sowmya Reddy lost by just 16 votes from Jayanagar. There was another Sowmya Reddy in the fray and she got 320 votes. Had the other Sowmya not been there, the ‘original’ Sowmya Reddy would have won. 

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Political parties don’t just use similar names. They also use party abbreviations and symbols to confuse voters. Come election and suddenly party names appear whose acronym is the same as the party’s vote they want to cut.

Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) had to deal with two more AAPs. One was called the Aapki Apni Party (AAP) but this AAP added a (People) in the bracket like it was AAP (P). 

It doesn’t end there. If the namesake is not enough and the party acronym is not enough, then it’s time to go after the symbol.

The Aapki Apni Party (People) chose a battery torch with lines of light coming out, which the AAP claimed looked like a broom, the AAP’s symbol. The Delhi High Court declared that the symbol indeed was similar and ruled that AAP(P) could not use its flashlight.

In Andhra Pradesh, two candidates went into a legal rotary over their symbol — one used a ceiling fan and the other a helicopter. Apparently, the voter could not differentiate between fan blades and helicopter blades!

Meanwhile, the Election Commission (EC) — as progressive as it has tried to be — has been unable to curb this menace of trying to deceive the voter. The EC absolutely must scuttle every attempt to hoodwink an illiterate voter. They could display the picture of the candidate next to his name which they said they would do but still have not.

The EC says it’s up to the political parties to give clarity to their voters. That’s unfortunate.

For now, Shakespeare wrote “What’s in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.”

Sure, it will, but when a name is allowed on a ballot to deceive a voter it stinks up our                               electoral system.

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