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Superstition spikes as Indian elections near

Gods and god-men much in demand as nervous politicians wary of voters seek divine intervention to win.

Last updated: 25 Mar 2014 08:54
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Politicians make it a point to visit temples and holy men to seek their blessings [source: Jain Teertha Trust]

When Nandan Nilekani, a self-made billionaire and the Congress candidate from the South Bangalore seat, went to file his nomination papers last Friday for the upcoming parliamentary vote, he chose an "auspicious" time.

According to his supporters, astrologers had advised the former chairman of IT giant Infosys, to file his papers between 12.15pm and 12.45pm that day, and Nilekani did precisely that.

Nilekani refuses to dwell on the issue, but his supporters say the astrologers' advice was to beat the gloomy phase of the day called "Rahu Kaala" and boost their boss' chance of winning the Bangalore seat that had eluded the Congress for over a decade.

Our politicians are superstitious to the core

Narendra Nayak, president of the Federation of Indian Rationalists Association

Politicians of every hue in India take astrology seriously, more so when elections approach, and do everything possible within their means to stay in line with celestial positions of planets, with which their own personal fortunes are believed to ebb and rise.

Also last week, in neighbouring Tamil Nadu, tongues were set wagging when M K Stalin, the leader of the regional Dravida Munnetra Kazagam (DMK) party turned up for an election rally at least an hour late.

A local Tamil newspaper Dinamalar pointed out that Stalin, like Nilekani, was also trying to avoid the "inauspicious time" of the day.

Though called differently in different regions of this vast country with many languages - from Rahu Kaal to Rahu Kalaa and Rahul Kalaam - the belief in it is perhaps one of the predominant elements that binds together politicians of this diverse nation.

Always known for mysticism, India is also a land where superstition thrives.

But what troubles rationalists more is its obsessive practice by the country's powerful politicians.

As Narendra Nayak, the president of the Federation of Indian Rationalists Association, points out: "Our politicians are superstitious to the core".

Based in the southern state of Karnataka, Nayak has consistently campaigned against superstition and obscurantism and travelled far and wide to spread :"scientific temper". But what he practiced did not apparently cut much ice with a very powerful politician of his own state, who was the chief minister till not long ago.

The ex-chief minister was known to engage with soothsayers and black magicians, though none of them helped as he got mired in allegations of graft and lost his job.

R P Jagadeesha, a former media adviser to the former chief minister B S Yeddyurappa, says his boss was known for fretting about "auspicious timings" all the time. Even an interview to the media was accordingly timed, in between his busy schedule that included umpteen visits to temples, some of them obscure.

Nayak says the turn of events is "tragic" as Nilekani's father was a humanist who would have never agreed to such practices. Similarly, the DMK was founded on principles of rationalism and the party's colour is black, denoting rebellion. Many therefore feel the party was a "parody of its past".

Yet, politicians across the country remain serious about their beliefs, and reports suggest that former Bihar chief minister Laloo Prasad Yadav got his swimming pool recently filled with mud. Newspapers have been quick to report that it was done as per "Vastu Shastra" or the ancient doctrine on how human dwellings need to be built in line with laws of nature.

Sanal Edamaruku, founder president of Rationalist International, is quick to rubbish the practice. He says Laloo would have been much better off if he had only cared to follow the principles of his mentor J P Narayan, a social and political reformer.

"Uncertain about their future"

Edamaruku says "politicians who feel uncertain about their future resort to these kinds of practices." He says former Prime Minister Deve Gowda changed frames of doors and windows of his official residence in New Delhi so that he remains in power, but what happened was just the opposite. He had one of the shortest tenures.

Yet, their obsession with superstition still remains strong.

Numeral 13 seems to be one of the favourite things of Rajasthan Chief Minister Vasundaraje Scindia. She took oath on December 13 at 13:13 hours, her residential address is 13 Civil Lines and her initial cabinet had 13 members. Though 8 Civil Lines of the provincial capital Jaipur is the designated official residence of the state chief minister, she has chosen to stay at Number 13.

When ballots were being counted last December after state polls to decide the winner, she chose to fly to Banswara in southern Rajasthan to worship at a temple. Propitiating the gods is a must-do for nervous politicians.

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India's motley group of god-men and god-women are also much in demand.

Rishab Bapji Maharaj, the main priest of the century-old Jain shrine in Mohan Kheda, about 100km from the central Indian city of Indore, is one such. He says he has "blessed" politicians cutting across party lines, from Sonia and Rahul Gandhi of the Congress, to their principal adversary, Narendra Modi of the Bharatiya Janata Party.

Rahul visited him some months ago and local newspapers reported that Bapji blessed him with "political power". The priest, however, brushes the reports as exaggeration, claiming he had blessed the scion of the Gandhi family as any other devotee.

He, however, agrees that politicians come visiting men like him as they have many followers. The objective could be to win over the votes of a particular community or group over which the god-man may have influence.

Mostly god fearing and deeply religious, faith is largely part of the Indian psyche. It therefore came as no surprise when K Radhakrishnan, chief of the Indian Space Research Organisation or ISRO visited the famous Tirupathi Tirumala temple with a model of the Orbiter of Mars just days before the satellite was recently launched into space.

"This is because achievements are often considered matter of faith," says Edamaruku of Rationalist International.

Politicians therefore continue to tread down the path of courting gods and god-men, risking public ridicule.

One highly sought after god-man, Asaram Bapu, is currently in jail over rape charges. But god-men have not lost any of the lustre for Indian politicians hungry for their providence.

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Al Jazeera
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