The World’s Biggest Election Loser Keeps Democracy on Its Toes

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Why you should care

Because the phrase “never say die” was coined precisely for moments like this.

K. Padmarajan is a little different from the rest of the candidates who run for elections in India. Mostly, and majorly, that’s on account of his losing 168 elections since 1988. It’s a feat that has gotten him entered in the Guinness Book of World Records for being “the most unsuccessful candidate in elections in the world.”

But sporting a big bushy mustache, a round red tilak and a colorful shawl on his shoulder, Padmarajan is, to put it mildly, unstoppable.

To date, the humble tire shop owner has spent Rs. 30 lakh (about $43,000) running for a variety of positions in national, state and local elections. The distinction has earned a passel of well-placed queries: “Why is he acting like a clown?” “Who does he think he is, trying to get into politics?” And these are, according to him, from his friends.

In India, independent candidates have only a 1 percent chance of winning a national election.

Another curious twist: His friends rarely vote for him, even if they’ve been close for decades. For years, even his wife and kids would discourage him and admonish him for borrowing money to pay for his runs: “Why are you taking loans when we don’t have any money?”

Padmarajan’s drive, though, finally wore them down and they now support his efforts — if a bit begrudgingly.

To many, Padmarajan appears to run for the sake of running, but his true motivations seem to go much deeper. In India, independent candidates have only a 1 percent chance of winning a national election, and political corruption and violence often sully elections around the country. Padmarajan himself was even the victim of an abduction in 1991 when he went up against P.V. Narasimha Rao, who would later become prime minister. The perpetrators were hoping to have Rao run unopposed. After he was freed, safe and sound, Padmarajan wanted to prove that the common man could go against the machine in a country rife with election problems.

And to date? His efforts have paid off: After his abduction the election commission changed the law so that any time a candidate is abducted, the election is halted. They also instituted new rules to prevent candidates from running from more than two constituencies in the same election (Padmarajan once ran in multiple states to expose how leaders have little loyalty to their constituencies).

In his latest venture, Parmadarajan ran for Parliament in 2019. He lost against Rahul Gandhi, the leader of the opposition Indian National Congress party. The final vote tally: 1,883 to 704,484.

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