Indian politicians try to see if success is written in the stars

Astrologers, soothsayers and clairvoyants wield influence in India’s political process

Congress Party president Sonia Gandhi (centre) and her son, party vice-president Rahul Gandhi (right), perform a Hindu “yagna” ritual before she files her nominations papers for the Indian elections. Photograph: EPA

Congress Party president Sonia Gandhi (centre) and her son, party vice-president Rahul Gandhi (right), perform a Hindu “yagna” ritual before she files her nominations papers for the Indian elections. Photograph: EPA


Indian politicians are busy consulting astrologers, stargazers, soothsayers and clairvoyants to help them emerge victorious in general elections in which the third of nine rounds of polling took place earlier this week.

Hundreds of competing “godmen” are not only “managing” the heavens for their political patrons, but also dominating all their public and private moves ahead of voting to elect 543 MPs that concludes on May 12th.

Many of them believe their success or failure will be on display in results that will be declared four days later.

“In life, timing for all human activity in keeping with star and planetary movements is not everything, it is the only thing, especially for politicians,” said Vinay Aditya, an astrologer based in New Delhi who advises several MPs and local legislators. Following such a course diligently based on astrological advice is almost certain to have a positive outcome, he added.

“The greater the uncertainty, the more the need for astrologers as guides into the unknown,” said Suresh Chander Misra, another of Delhi’s politically connected astrologers. “There are hardly any Indian politicians who do not consult a bank of astrologers or Tantric priests who indulge in black magic and sundry mumbo jumbo to ensure their clients’ electoral success,” he added.

Celestial minders
These celestial minders, he added, dictate not only the date and exact time their clients file their nomination papers but also when they launch their campaigns, how many electoral meetings they hold and where. Their advice also determines their patrons’ travel plans, the clothes they wear and even the food they consume on the campaign trail.

Whether these politicians believe all heir astrologers tell them is another matter. But as one senior MP from the ruling Congress Party said, there was no “celestial” advice he would for go – it just might work.

Members of India’s four Communist parties remain the exception in this regard. But many believers are of the view that l eftist scepticism in matters astrological has been responsible for their political influence being limited to just three Indian states.

Insidious influence
Astrology and palmistry are something all Indians grow up with and its insidious or overt influence is a reality of varying degrees in their lives.

The earlier generation of independent India’s politicians, however, were less dependent than their successors on “cosmic managers”.

The country’s first prime minister, the Harrow- and Cambridge-educated Jawaharlal Nehru, ridiculed astrologers but succeeding premiers, including his daughter Indira Gandhi and her son Rajiv, were among their most willing clients.

Indira Gandhi popularised soothsayers in political circles a year after being voted out of office in 1977 for imposing an internal emergency and suspending the constitution when her political survival was threatened by a court ruling. She turned to them for guidance and many of her Congress Party members credit them with “engineering” her return to power in 1980.

Several of her supporters maintain that Mrs Gandhi was assassinated in 1984 by her Sikh bodyguards because she did not adhere to her astrologers’ advice. The western-educated Rajiv Gandhi, who succeeded his mother as prime minister, was initially dismissive of astrologers but as his political capital gradually declined he travelled across the country visiting influential “godmen” when up for re-election in 1989.

One such personality he visited lived high up a tree in northern Uttar Pradesh state. The baba (holy man) assured Gandhi of success by placing his foot on his head as he stood obediently below.

Unluckily, Gandhi’s Congress Party was voted out of office soon after. But the “holy man” was not blamed, as Gandhi reportedly had not strictly followed the advice that had been ministered to him in private.

Some astrologers are also known to play somewhat sinister roles. A few operate as “plants” by local and federal intelligence agencies monitoring elections or more often by rival political parties seeking information regarding their opponents’ strategies.

Ultimately, a handful of these successful astrological fixers end up wielding influence once their patrons assume office ensuring them great personal wealth and political influence. Until, of course, the capricious stars decree otherwise in the next elections.