India polls: Clone candidates clutter constituency contests

A woman casts her vote at a polling station in Ajmer district in the desert Indian state of Rajasthan on April 17, 2014. Voters in a parliamentary constituency in western India could be forgiven for asking the real candidates to please stand up.
A woman casts her vote at a polling station in Ajmer district in the desert Indian state of Rajasthan on April 17, 2014. Voters in a parliamentary constituency in western India could be forgiven for asking the real candidates to please stand up. -- PHOTO: REUTERS

MAVAL, India (Reuters) - Voters in a parliamentary constituency in western India could be forgiven for asking the real candidates to please stand up.

The race in Maval, a constituency of 1.9 million voters in Maharashtra state, has two real contenders: One is Mr Shrirang Barne of the Shiv Sena, an ally of the opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) that is on track to form the next government. The other is Mr Laxman Jagtap of the Peasants and Workers Party (PWP), an ally of the ruling Congress Party.

Yet the ballot has a total of five men sharing those names. Such "clone" candidates are often fielded to gain an edge by splitting the vote of political rivals.

"They want to confuse the voters and eat into each other's share," said Mr Mohan Kadu, the presiding officer for the election commission in Maval.

Both candidates declined to comment on who had fielded their namesakes.

India is in the midst of election that will last more than month, the largest democratic exercise in the world with more than 815 million voters. Thursday was the biggest day of voting, with contests being held across 12 states.

Ballots are marked with a visual symbol for each party, helping illiterate voters to identify the candidate they want.

The real Mr Barne is symbolized by a bow and arrow, while his namesake is represented by an arrow only. Mr Jagtap's teacup symbol is distinct from those of his two eponymous challengers, who appear as a cap and a helmet.

"I pressed the button on the arrow instead of the bow and arrow," one confused farmer asked a polling officer in the village of Kamshet. "What should I do now?"

In nearby Shilatne village, another farmer asked polling officer Vikash Shinde to show him the election symbol for the "real Laxman Jagtap".