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Politicians turn to superstition before Indian elections

Temples report brisk trade in prayers and blessings

Ritu Sharma, New Delhi

April 4, 2014

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With just three days to go until the general election begins, politicians have become more superstitious than usual in a bid to win India’s most closely fought polls in years.

From conducting special prayers to filing nominations at an astrologically auspicious time, to checking Vastu Shastra – India’s version of Feng Shui – in their homes, candidates are resorting to the gods to help ensure victory at the ballot box.

Like many Hindu temples Doodeshwar Nath, dedicated to Lord Shiva in Ghaziabad, Uttar Pradesh, has been busier than usual.

“Divine power helps,” said temple priest Rajendra Sharma. “The leaders get mental satisfaction and inner strength to fight the stress and anxiety they go through during campaigning.”

Outspoken movie actor turned ruling Congress Party lawmaker Raj Babbar visited Doodeshwar at the end of last month, as did former army chief VK Singh of the main opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and smaller party leaders including Mukul Updhyay of the Bahujan Samaj Party, Sudhan Rawat from the Samajwadi Party and Shazia Ilmi of the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP).

All are fighting it out in Ghaziabad where voting will take place next Thursday as part of a drawn out, nationwide vote over nine stages which ends on May 12.

Indians typically head to temples for major events including births, marriages and deaths, so why not elections, said Sharma.

“All of these leaders came to the temple and worshipped Lord Shiva before filing their nominations for the polls,” he added.

India’s most senior politicians have also sought divine elelctoral intervention.

Italian-born Congress Party President Sonia Gandhi held a traditional Hindu Havan ceremony, burning grains and clarified butter used to mark births and marriages – a family tradition, she said – before filing her candidacy on Wednesday.

Narendra Modi of the BJP visited the revered Hindu Vaishno Devi shrine in Jammu and Kashmir to seek blessings on March 26.

Some pre-election tactics have been less spiritual and more superstitious.

Nandan Nilekani, former chairman of IT monolith Infosys, sought advice from an astrologer before submitting his nomination between 12:15pm and 12:45pm last week, and Lalu Prasad Yadav, head of a regional Bihar party in the east of the country, filled his pond with mud in obeisance to another superstition.

Even self-proclaimed agnostic leader Arvind Kejriwal, chief of the AAP, sought solace in the holy city of Varanasi where he is pitched against Modi.

Narendra Nayak of the Federation of Indian Rationalist Associations, an umbrella organization of skeptic and secularist groups, said Indian politics had devolved to a 16th-century mindset to fight a 21st century election – people are expected to believe without question.

“If all these leaders are conducting prayers and seeking blessings, then all of them should win,” said Nayak, tongue in cheek.

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