‘Independents’ or ‘also ran’ provide added flavour to our vibrant democracy — but somehow, they miss out on the print, online and TV attention they deserve.
In 2014, for instance, 78 people filed nominations against Narendra Modi from Varanasi. There were people such as 87-year-old Nagarmal Bajoria, whose nomination papers were rejected on technical grounds. But for most, the Varanasi contest was about Narendra Modi verus Arvind Kejriwal or Ajay Rai, but as many as 42 candidates were in the fray after withdrawals and rejections.
The Legend of 'Dhartipakad': Nagarmal Bajoria fought many elections and lost them all. He also wanted to contest Narendra Modi in 2014 from Varanasi. (Source: Reuters)
Bajoria, who had migrated from Lahore after Partition, was a Bhagalpur-based trader and social worker. His nomination papers were rejected but Bajoria was ‘happy’ to have made an attempt. Bajoria had coined a slogan — ‘Ek Bihari, sab par bhari’ to take on Modi and Kejriwal. As in the past, donkeys accompanied him to the returning officer’s office while filing his nomination papers. “The donkeys that accompanied were symbolic of political leaders who fool people with false promises,” he told a newspaper then.
Among the 42 independents from Varanasi in 2014, Prabhat Kumar declared assets worth Rs 3.35 crore — higher than any other candidate fighting from the temple town. In fact, the cumulative assets of all 42 candidates were over Rs 25 crore.
Not just individuals, there were many obscure and little-known political parties in the fray. The 2014 line-up for Varanasi had Manavadhikar Janshakti Party, Agar Jan Party, Jan Shakti Ekta Party, Moulik Adhikar Party, Rastriya Insaaf Party, Gandhi Ekta Party, Indian National League, Rashtriya Ambedkar Dal, Bahujan Mukti Party, Bhartiya Shakti Chetna Party and Shoshit Samaj Dal.
Interestingly, winning an election is not the sole objective of these independents.
Bajoria had claimed to have contested 278 times from presidential elections to civic polls, mostly losing out due to incomplete papers. He had even contested from trouble-torn Jammu and Kashmir — and holds a distinction of losing security deposits in all the elections he fought.
Hari Lal, Kaka Joginder Singh, Nagarmal Bajoria and Mohan Lal Dhartipakad are ‘Democracy’s Davids’.
On December 31, 2002, Mohan Lal Dhartipakar, who, like Bajoria, had lost all the elections he fought in his eventful political career spread over four decades, finally lost the last fight. However, his passing away was not registered on the political radar. His opponents were busy welcoming the New Year (2003) when his end came.
It's our democracy and everyone's invited: Many contestants lost their deposits. That, however, did not deter them. (Source: Reuters)
Gwalior-based Dhartipakar had contested municipal, assembly, parliamentary and presidential polls with equal zeal, using his own hard-earned money without any success — but even then, the 65-year-old died without regrets.
Dhartipakar, which translates into someone who has his ear to the ground, was seen as a clown in the political arena. But he used to proudly give out the names of five prime ministers he faced — Indira Gandhi, Charan Singh, Rajiv Gandhi, PV Narasimha Rao and Atal Bihari Vajpayee. Neelam Sanjeeva Reddy and Zail Singh were his rivals in the presidential polls.
Dhartipakar was serious about democracy, democratic values and accountability in public life. Holder of a first-class LLM degree, he saw no place for consensus in a democratic system. “People must have a choice. Otherwise, there was no point holding elections,” he said in an interview, clarifying that he was not a publicity-crazy person otherwise.
He sought to convey the notion that he was driven by an urge to make people aware of the values of democracy.
“The idea of contesting at all levels of democracy was to make everyone realise that democracy was meant for one and all and we should all feel part of it,” he reportedly said.
Whenever he contested elections, Dhartipakar would wear a wooden crown, garland himself and go about ringing a bell. “The bell was symbolic of alerting the masses,” said Jai Shanker, an old associate of Dhartipakar. Often he would arrive at Vajpayee’s public meetings in Lucknow and Gwalior, sporting a dhoti-kurta, just as the former PM’s favourite attire. Apparently, Vajpayee used to acknowledge his presence.
Vajpayee knew Dhartipakar well as both hailed from Gwalior and the latter’s family was sympathetic to the Hindu Mahasabha.
Dhartipakar left a significant amount of property for his wife and four children after his death. But he was a frugal man, even when chasing his obsession. While contesting elections, he did not spend a lot of money. He would sell his campaign material, like handbills and pamphlets, for a token amount of 25 paise. The objective was to make everyone participate in the democratic process.
Chowdhury Hari Ram, a farmer from Haryana, was the country’s original ‘Dhartipakar’, contesting and losing presidential polls with passion. Chowdhury Hari Ram, a farmer from Haryana, disliked the idea of associating with any organised political group or movement. But his son, Krishnamurthy Hooda, served as a minister in Bhajan Lal’s cabinet. Hari Lal had contested the presidential polls in 1952, 1957, 1962, 1967 and 1969 — on occasions, getting even ‘zero votes’.
Before 1974, anyone could contest presidential polls by virtue of an adult voter.
But in 1974, Parliament passed an act following the recommendations of the Election Commission, amending the Presidential and Vice-Presidential Act, 1952.
The main features of the amendment were:
a) It required that the nomination paper of a presidential candidate shall be subscribed by at least 10 electors as proposers and 10 electors as seconders. It was further amended and now for presidential elections, a candidate needs 50 to 40 MPs or MLAs as proposers and seconders respectively.
The Gates to Power: The security deposit to contest a presidential election is currently pegged at Rs 15,000. (Source: PTI)
b) The amendments also increased the security deposit, which was pegged at Rs 2,500 in 1974 — currently, it is at Rs 15,000.
c) It required that petitions challenging an election could be presented only before the Supreme Court by any candidate or by a minimum of 20 electors together as petitioners.
Bajoria believed that corruption was the root cause of all the ills plaguing the democratic set-up in the country. Bajoria first contested the presidential polls against VV Giri in 1969. He had entered the fray in all the subsequent elections for the posts of the president and the vice-president. He has also contested polls against bigwigs such as Indira Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi in high-profile constituencies like Rae Bareli and Amethi. Bajoria lost security deposits in most of the elections — but defeat never deterred him.
He said this was his way of serving society.
Bajoria, who migrated to Bihar from Lahore after Partition, earned the sobriquet of ‘Dhartipakar’ because of his never-say die spirit.