As political campaigning heats up in legislative elections across five Indian states, one candidate is hogging headlines for his absurdist take on the culture of campaign freebies.
Early this week, Thulam Saravanan, a 33-year-old former journalist, published his list of promises to voters in the southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu. If you vote for him, you’ll get free helicopters, iPhones, a rocket launchpad, a 100-day vacation to the moon and robots to do housework.
Saravanan’s campaign symbol is a trash can with the caption, “The symbol of honesty is the dustbin.”
By Thursday, Saravanan’s manifesto had gone viral.
As his unique campaign drew a range of responses, Saravanan told VICE World News that he wanted to call out the behavior of political parties who lure voters with meals and entertainment at campaign events. “I made such promises to tell them that they should choose honest politicians without being lured by freebies,” he said.
Indian elections are some of the costliest in the world. This year, political parties from the five states contested in the polls will spend up to $30 million in advertising, according to estimates.
In 2019, India was said to have the the most expensive elections in the world after spending $8.7 billion—a record only broken by the fiercely contested US campaign last year, which cost nearly $14 billion.
Apart from the sheer scale, what stands out is how doling out freebies—including chicken curry, goats and television sets—is normalized in the country. Candidates lying about their campaign expenses, bribing voters with drugs, cash, alcohol and gold, and election costs running states into debt have all been well documented.
“Bribery and corruption are rampant all over Tamil Nadu and we have chosen the Trash Bin logo to clean it up,” said Saravanan.
He said his attempts to roast the freebie-offering politicians are the source of the attention he is getting.
“There are two major parties in Tamil Nadu, and their election promises are not accepted and seen by the people,” he said. “But my election promises are seen by a large number of people, including all the villages. We see this as our first victory.”
A journalist for five years, Saravanan said he wants to pursue politics from now on. As far as reactions to his manifesto go, he said people are welcoming him and his message.
Before he came up with manifesto, Saravanan had ironically taken a small loan from his parents to file his nomination.
Will he fulfill the extravagant promises if elected?
“It’s a joke,” he confirmed.
But what happens if he actually wins?
“If I win, we will meet all the basic facilities of the people of my constituency,” he said.
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