ON VALENTINE’S DAY THIS YEAR, approximately fifty members of the Indian Lovers Party set out in small groups for three beaches in Chennai. Holding up the party flag—a pink, orange and green tri-colour, on which the Taj Mahal appears inside a heart outlined in the same colours, with an arrow through it—they roamed Marina Beach, Besant Nagar Beach and Golden Beach, keeping watch over romantic couples. Kumar Sri Sri, a former makeup artist and the party’s founder and president, was at Marina Beach, where on Valentine’s Day in 2008, he said, he saw members of conservative Hindu groups “conduct protests, rip greeting cards, and amuse themselves by conducting dog marriages in front of the Gandhi statue, much to the embarrassment of couples sharing a moment on the beach.” Things only got worse, he said, “when the police came, and began harassing [couples] for public display of affection.”
In response, that same year Kumar formed the ILP to advocate for “the politics of love.” He filed a PIL in the Madras High Court, seeking to ban political and religious groups from harassing couples. Though that case is still pending, on Valentine’s Day each year since 2008, the ILP’s “lovers”—as the party’s members call themselves—have patrolled the beaches, while also distributing chocolate and campaigning for the party.
This year, the ILP’s efforts had added urgency—Kumar, now thirty-six years old, is standing as an independent candidate from the Chennai South constituency in the upcoming Lok Sabha elections. On Marina Beach, pink posters fluttered in the sand, showing a beaming Kumar beside a list of campaign promises. These include a free tour of the “love memorial Taj Mahal for all lovers,” and pledges of support for couples looking to get married against the wishes of their families or communities. Next to the ILP’s election symbol—a glass of strawberry ice-cream—the poster also carried the party’s slogan, “Lovers of the world, unite.”
“All evils of society can be eradicated with the help of love marriages,” Kumar told me a few days later in his office, a rented room down a maze of narrow lanes in the residential neighbourhood of Kodambakkam. The walls were plastered with pink posters bearing life-size images of Kumar, and old mattresses, documents and computer screens were piled in one corner. Kumar did not share any figures of party strength, but claimed “anyone who loves” as an ILP member. He also said the party had helped marry fifty-five couples so far. The ILP’s work is funded from a trust into which all these couples are expected to contribute, and of which they are all members, as well as by contributions from “fans.” The party’s manifesto, based firmly on the “ideology of love,” includes ideas on everything from poverty and terrorism to caste reservations and global warming.
Kumar was upbeat about his chances in the upcoming elections, and believed that love was an issue “which concerns the youth of the country.” “If there are approximately fourteen lakh voters in south Chennai, then I should get about one lakh of the votes,” he said. That would be a big improvement on his only previous election outing; in the 2011 state elections, he won 2.4 percent of the vote in south Chennai’s Thyagaraja Nagar constituency, losing by a margin of 56 percent to VP Kalairajan of the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam party, which now rules Tamil Nadu. Kumar hoped that this time around he would benefit from the support of new allies. “There are many other parties—Dravidar Kazhagam, Communist Party of India, and Telangana Rashtra Samithi—who are supporting my party in Chennai,” he said. “I can always stand for issues that are a common area of concern for all these parties.”