Rahul Gandhi – son, grandson, and great-grandson of Indian prime ministers – is campaigning to become prime minister himself. His name elicits strong reactions and offers instant brand recognition. It also alienates voters who do not appreciate dynastic rule within a democracy.
There’s another candidate in an awkwardly similar situation: Raghul (with a “g”) Gandhi, a 30-year-old consultant from Coimbatore, Tamil Nadu, who is one of the 22 hopefuls – including the more famous Rahul (no “g”) –seeking the Lok Sabha seat of Wayanad, in Kerala. Raghul is running as the Agila India Makkan Kazagham party candidate, with the support of the Hindustan Janata Party.
In fact, four of the 22 candidates of the seat are named Gandhi, though it’s unlikely they are related: Aside from Rahul, 48, of the Congress party (symbol: hand) and Raghul (symbol: bucket), there are Rahul Gandhi KE (symbol: hour glass), a social worker from Kottayam, a district in southern Kerala, who ran as an independent, and KM Sivaprasad Gandhi (symbol: air conditioner), a research scholar from Thrissur, also a southern Kerala district, who was running for the Indian Gandhian party.
Wayanad went to the polls on Tuesday.
Singing up people with similar votes to a prominent candidate in the hope of confusing voters is an old practice in India, so common that the Election Commission of India introduced a new rule, requiring the photograph of the candidate to be affixed together with their name and symbol. Although confusion may not be the motive with some of the Gandhi candidates in Wayanad.
Like the more famous Rahul, Raghul Gandhi filed his affidavit on April 4, but it was notarised on April 1, while Rahul’s was notarised on April 2; KM Sivaprasad Gandhi filed his affidavit on April 1, ahead all other namesakes, while Rahul Gandhi KE only filed on April 12.
What’s in a name
All of the candidates owe their names to politics, one way or the other. Rahul Gandhi KE says he was named by his father out of respect for the Congress party, and KM Sivaprasad Gandhi only added “Gandhi” to his last name after he joined the Gandhian party, in honour of Mahatma Gandhi. (To add to the confusion, Rahul Gandhi is a descendant of Jawaharlal Nehru; Indira Gandhi, Nehru’s daughter, changed her name after marrying Feroze Gandhi, formerly Gandhy, who changed his last name’s last letter to an “i” when he joined the independence struggle of the 1930s.)
Raghul Gandhi isn’t new to electoral races. He has run for office twice already, in 2014 for mayor of Coimbatore, and in 2016 for the Tamil Nadu assembly elections. He would have run from Coimbatore again, he told Quartz, but his affidavit was rejected because of his name’s similarity to Rahul Gandhi.
Rather than going through the bureaucracy of confirming his identity, he decided to try Wayanad instead, where his entry didn’t raise suspicion – ending up against Rahul Ji (as Rahul Gandhi is commonly referred to, Ji being a respectful suffix in Hindi) himself. (As is traditional for his family, and himself, Rahul Gandhi is running for a seat in Amethi, in Uttar Pradesh. He is on the ballot in Wayanad, too: Candidates can run in two constituencies; should they be elected in both, they have 10 days to recuse themselves from one of the seats, which is then up for grabs through a by-election.)
There is something Shakespearean to it: Raghul has come to run against the man he owes his name to. His grandfather, A. Palanisamy, was a freedom fighter and Congress supporter, and his late father, Krishnan P, campaigned for Congress for 30 years. A fan of the Gandhi family, Krishnan named his children after prominent figures in the party: Raghul has a sister, and her name is Indira Priyadarshini.
‘A new kind of company’
“I hate politics, I got so many opportunities to join [politics] with my father but I rejected them,” said Raghul. However, later he realised that “the power is only yours when it is in your hands”. So now, Raghul, who has a 10th-grade diploma, is a full-time politician. Though he is running with the Agila India Makkan Kazagham for this election, with the support of the Hindustan Janata Party, he intends to register his own party, Jaihind Freedom Party, to eventually take on Rahul Gandhi and Narendra Modi at a national level.
At the moment his platform has two main points: To fight for the adoption of 33 state languages, particularly Dravidian languages, as national languages, and to lower taxes. This is just a first step towards his ultimate goal, which he says he will pursue once he gets a chance of bigger exposure on national level: “Freedom from all taxes.”
His vision is radical: Raghul proposes to turn the government into “a new kind of company” that runs all sorts of businesses – from cinemas to restaurants – and invests the profits in funding public services and programs instead of requiring taxes. This has the advantage, he says, of guaranteeing income for the government, and providing jobs to the people working for governmental businesses, who then can hold onto their whole income.
Raghul Gandhi’s electoral program for Wayanad, Kerala. He knows it’s an uphill battle, so for now he will be content to help reduce taxes, if elected. For that, he says he plans to support whoever ends up forming the national government. That’s the only way, he explains, to guarantee Wayanad people are taken care of.
Like Rahul Gandhi, and the other candidate Gandhis, Raghul is not from Wayanad, nor has he spent much time in the district. He visited for the first time earlier this month to file his affidavit and distribute pamphlets.
“Everyone was very supportive,” says Raghul, although as of April 20, Quartz was not able to find a single voter in Sultan Bathery, Pulpally, or Kalpetta (some of the main centres in Wayanad) who was aware of his candidacy.
On April 21, Raghul embarked in a one-day push for his campaign, aiming to drive through all of his constituency. “I want to reach seven places – the main places,” he said, “all of Wayanad.”
The campaign is now officially over, with voting on April 23. But Raghul’s fight isn’t: He shared with Quartz copy of a complaint he had filed to the Election Commission of India, asking that Rahul Gandhi be disqualified from running in the Wayanad due to his holding a British passport as well as an Indian one – an issue the BJP candidate in the district had raised with the commission, too.
Here is the full list of candidates seeking the Wayanad seat:
Meera Maria contributed to this report.
This article first appeared on Quartz.