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"Clone" candidates looking to confuse voters in India

In an attempt to fool voters, "dummy" or "clone" candidates have been popping up around India during election period. They share names with well-known politicians and aim to cause confusion on ballot papers.

NEW DELHI: In an attempt to fool voters, "dummy" or "clone" candidates have been popping up around India during election period. They share names with well-known politicians and aim to cause confusion on ballot papers.

Former actress-turned-politician Hema Malini has done several double roles on screen, but the two namesakes running against her in the Mathura parliamentary constituency are no doubles.

They are proxy candidates allegedly fielded by rival parties -- a trick often used to confuse voters and dilute votes. The gimmick goes as far as giving unknown candidates a party symbol designed to look like the one used by the more well-known candidate.

The strategy is not limited to Mathura alone -- in central Chhatisgarh, incumbent MP Chandulal Sahu of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is running against no less than seven competitors who share his name.

However, political observers do not think the gimmick will have much impact on the poll outcome.

Balbir Punj, one of the leaders in the BJP, said: "It's a very old trick and various political parties have tried to use this trick for a very long time. But my experience is that it doesn't materially affect the poll outcome.

"The only difference it makes is that the real candidate, the serious candidate, has to spend money and time in trying to educate the voters that he is the real candidate."

Official candidates have used the ruse to their own advantage as well. Dummy candidates are sometimes placed within their own parties to help authentic candidates utilise more funds and services. These include their vehicles, polling agents and campaigning teams.

Shahid Siddiqui, a political analyst, said: "It helps in distributing poll expenses. Dummy candidates can have their own cars and when you are spending on fuel and vehicles, and then you can show it into the accounts of dummy candidates. These things do happen but they are part of an extremely vibrant and healthy democracy."

The practice is not illegal, but the Election Commission has been trying to keep an eye on such dubious candidates.

Though dummy candidates are not likely to tilt the scale or change the imminent victory or defeat of a candidate, the tactic is one of several stealthy devices that can prove dangerous in a multi-cornered fight -- where the winning or losing margins can be very slender. 

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