"Predict the election results and win Rs 21 Lakh"

14 April 2014

Jyotishratna Nandkishor Jakatdar insists that Narendra Modi will not be India’s next prime minister. Jakatdar, an astrologer and president of the Brihan Maharashtra Jyotish Mandal, a Pune-based association of astrologers, explained that analysing the sun, Mars and Saturn were key to predicting political success and that “their positions, motions and influences do not favour Modi. His desire to be PM will not be fulfilled.” Jakatdar prophesises that the Bharatiya Janata Party will end up with between 155 and 165 seats, that the Congress will win between 115 and 125 seats, and that the Aam Aadmi Party, led by Arvind Kejriwal, will not prove significant players at all. “Success will elude him,” Jakatdar said.

If Jakatdar is confident about his predictions, and decides to venture a few more, it could be well worth his effort. The Maharashtra Andhashraddha Nirmoolan Samiti (MANS), an organisation fighting superstition across the state, recently announced an open challenge to astrologers and sundry fortune-tellers—if they accurately foretell the results of the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, they stand to win Rs 21 lakh.

The challenge, posted on the MANS website, denounces astrologers’ claims as being based on “pseudo sciences” and lists a set of multiple-choice questions to which the organisation invites predictions. These include questions about how many seats parties such as the Congress, AIADMK and Communist Party of India (Marxist) will win, what percentage of votes candidates such as Rahul Gandhi, Ram Vilas Paswan and Kapil Sibal will win, and the identities of the speaker, agricultural minister and leader of the opposition in the new Lok Sabha. Participants are required to enrol with a deposit of Rs 5,000, which they forfeit if they score less than 50 percent (each correct prediction earns them one mark). According to the MANS website, the last date for making the payment is 15 April, and the last date for sending in predictions is 11 May, one day before the last day of polls.

But Jakatdar rebuffed the suggestion that he should take up the MANS’s challenge. “You need hundreds, if not thousands, of horoscopes at your disposal to do that,” he said. “The challenge is simply unacceptable. There is simply no logic and meaning to it.”

Pune is a fitting location for this face-off between astrologers and rationalists, having been a centre for socio-political and religious reform movements dating back to the nineteenth century, when Mahadev Govind Ranade founded the Poona Sarvajanik Sabha and the Widow Marriage Association, and Jyotirao Phule founded the Satyashodak Samaj, the society of truth-seekers. Pune has also incubated communities of sky-watchers, such as the Jyotirvidya Parisanstha, formed in 1944, the country’s oldest association of amateur astronomers, which promotes astronomy through a purely scientific temperament. The Inter-University Centre for Astronomy and Astrophysics (IUCAA) was set up in 1988 by Jayant Narlikar, internationally known for his work in cosmology.

Anosh Malekar is an award-winning journalist based in Pune, who prefers traveling in rural India and writing about people living on the margins of society. He has worked with publications such as The Week and the Indian Express.